Just Housing: a space at the table

Just Housing is a local grassroots group advocating for and supporting the rights, dignity, and basic human needs of unhoused Olympians. Just Housing consists of both housed and unhoused organizers and our advocacy is centered on the voices and needs of those who are currently houseless in our community.

Needed: A place at the table

Just Housing was founded in the spring of 2016 by me and Renata Rollins (who was recently elected to the Olympia City Council). At the time, we were coworkers in a street outreach and resource navigation program for houseless adults.  We recognized that a core issue in our community’s response to the houselessness crisis was the absence of ‘a place at the table’ for unhoused community members to advocate for themselves. In founding Just Housing, our main goal was to create this space at the table, to open an avenue for folks living unhoused to be able to use their own voices to advocate for their needs and rights.

Advocating for immediate needs

Olympia has incredible organizations advocating for long-term plans to “end” homelessness. While Just Housing supports long-term solutions, like increasing access to affordable housing, our focus is intentionally different. As a group centered on the voices, needs and experiences of Olympians living unsheltered today, we are necessarily grounded in present, practical reality, even as we work together to build new futures. In practice, this means that much of our work is dedicated to advocating for immediate needs such as legal and safe places to sleep, and basic health and sanitation services.

Problem-solving instead of problem-moving

One arm of our work is political advocacy. This includes our Legalize Survival campaign.  For the past two years, Just Housing has advocated for our city leaders to legalize survival by replacing and reforming laws that criminalize houselessness; by designating safe and legal places for people to shelter themselves outdoors; and by pursuing problem-solving, rather than problem-moving, approaches to encampments. We have advocated for our city to legalize survival by organizing speakers at City Council meetings, advocating with Council members and city staff, and practicing nonviolent civil disobedience.

Progress on legal, safety and sanitary needs

In recent months, our campaign has achieved some meaningful victories. On May 15, 2018 the Olympia City Council passed Resolution M-1942 which, in part, directed city staff to create safe and legal places for people to camp with garbage support, bathrooms, and storage. A few weeks later, the Council passed amendments to Olympia’s Emergency Housing Facilities ordinance, which Just Housing has been working with City Staff to amend over the past year. The amendments significantly expand the possibility of offering safe and legal camping options.

We have also used our advocacy tools to push for increased access to 24/7 bathrooms. During December of 2017, we organized three nights of sit-ins at the Heritage Park bathrooms to protest nighttime closure. These actions led to the state’s Department of Enterprise Services putting in place a port-a-potty and handwashing station at the park that is open for nighttime use.

Filling a gap left by government

Another aspect of our work is supporting encampments in Olympia. For example, neither the city nor the county provide garbage removal service to encampments.  Over the past year, we have worked to fill this gap through our Rolling Refuse Removal project. Organizers and volunteers come together every Saturday at encampments to pick up and dispose of garbage. We also partner with other organizations and invested community members to provide encampment residents with needle exchange services and basic survival supplies.

Demonstrating the good that a just approach can produce

Finally, we have recently begun providing Encampment Facilitation support. This consists of working with encampment residents, their neighbors, landowners, and government bodies to problem-solve around issues that arise with encampments. A goal of this work is to facilitate solutions that do not rely on the practice of displacing encampments from one illegal location to another. Rather we work with stakeholders to find more just solutions that cause the least harm possible, while addressing the concerns of all who are affected.

In addition to supporting the survival of community members who are unhoused, a goal of our survival support work is to show our community what a just, harm reducing, trauma-informed, and problem-solving approach to encampments can look like.

We are only just beginning to explore what is possible in a compassionate and creative community like ours, when the will is there to push beyond the boundaries of what we think we know. We are excited to see where we can go from here!

Tye Gundel is a co-founder of Just Housing and has been working as an organizer with the group since 2016.

To get involved:  Attend meetings: Mondays 2-5 pm @ P.O.W.E.R (309 5th Ave SE). Donate @paypal.me/justhousing.  Follow us at www.facebook.com/JustHousingOly/ or visit the website at www.justhousingolympia.org

Volunteer for our Rolling Refuse Removal—Every Saturday
12 pm-4:30 pm

Clean up volunteers: Meet at the Westside Food Co-op (921 Rogers Street NW Olympia) at 12pm. After an orientation on safety guidelines and settling on an action plan for the day, volunteers will carpool to encampments for garbage cleanup.

Your truck to help with dump runs: dump fees can be either donated or reimbursed. Truck owners needn’t lift bags, and can meet volunteers at the encampments after 1 pm, if unavailable earlier. Please call our cleanup coordinator at 845-988-6394 to get directions to the day’s cleanup site.

Please dress appropriately (long pants, boots, work gloves). If you do not have gloves of your own, we can provide them.

 

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