The City of Olympia has, over the years, adopted numerous laws that criminalize and ban camping. Combined with the fact that there are over 1000 people without homes, plus a shortage of shelter beds, these laws ensure that hundreds of our neighbors have no legal place to find shelter.
In recent years, the city has enforced its camping bans through the eviction of encampments. Given no alternatives, those displaced have had no choice but to move to another “illegal” location. Meanwhile, the challenges associated with the encampments, like garbage and human waste, have remained unsolved; with people simply moving from place to place. This represents a problem-moving, not a problem-solving approach.
For two years, Just Housing has advocated for our city leaders to #LegalizeSurvival to look for a problem-solving approach to encampments: to replace and/or reform laws that criminalize houselessness and to designate safe and legal places for people to shelter themselves outdoors.
This May 15, the Olympia City Council passed Resolution M-1942 which, in part, directs city staff to create safe and legal places for people to camp — with garbage support, bathrooms, and storage. The resolution also memorializes the City Council’s support for the Community Care Center and directs staff to create a day center with 150 seats.
This resolution represents a huge shift our city’s response to our housing crisis. This significant step forward will hopefully be followed by more positive measures.
Within the next few weeks, the council will vote on amendments to Olympia’s Temporary Encampment Ordinance, which Just Housing has been working with City Staff to amend over the past year. The council will also vote on whether to declare a Housing State of Emergency. If passed, these actions will improve our community’s ability to quickly and adequately meet emergency needs of our unhoused neighbors in was that preserve livability for everyone.
Creating legal encampment alternatives can go a long way toward meeting our community’s shelter needs. However, it is unlikely that we will have the resources and capacity necessary to meet the entire need.
In the context of this reality, Just Housing recognizes existing encampments as valuable resources that should be supported and built upon, as they are currently providing a service for our community (hundreds of shelter beds) that we cannot readily replace.
We hope that as new legal encampments are created, the city will not embark on a simultaneous “crackdown” on existing encampments. This would risk further harming trust and relationships with the unhoused community and jeopardize the potential success of alternative encampments.
Instead, the goal is to support relationships and trust-building that encourage people to access safe and legal encampments by choice. We can do this by working with camp residents and their neighbors to learn, problem-solve, and even by exploring ways to make currently illegal encampments legal when possible. The bottom line is that to build the trust and relationships that are necessary to resolve our housing crisis, we must allow people to be a part of the solution.
Just Housing is an all-volunteer organization founded in 2016. It speaks, acts and advocates for justice in housing and safe options for those without. Find more information on their FB page, justhousingoly.