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Olympia's No. 1 Challenge

"I will continue to develop compassionate, community-wide responses while also promoting personal accountability to address Olympia’s homelessness crisis"

Olympia City Council Meeting - 4th Avenue Bridge Cleanup Delay Response

For most of us, Olympia is a great place to live, work, and raise our families. But that’s not the reality for homeless residents who must struggle every day to find shelter, health care and food, and to meet other basic needs. We’re all living with fallout from this crisis.

This situation is simply unacceptable. Here are some facts:

  • More than 1,000 people are homeless in Olympia and Thurston County. Every night, people are sleeping in doorways and alleys downtown, and in cars, parks, and other spaces not meant for human habitation.
  • Almost 60 percent of the county’s homeless residents lived here before they became homeless. 
  •  A 2016-17 survey by state school officials found 1,670 homeless K-12 students in our county.
  • Tragically, law enforcement reports routinely show that many homeless people and families are preyed upon by those who take criminal advantage of their misfortune.

As a result, many Olympians have basically written off downtown, especially after dark. Many people simply don’t feel safe, and vacant storefronts provide proof of businesses’ ongoing struggle to attract customers.

In July 2018, I signed a city ordinance declaring the situation a public emergency and giving city officials broad authority to provide critically needed responses.

I strongly support the strategies adopted by the city in the last couple of years, such as:

  • Forming a partnership with church groups and others in the faith community to provide temporary housing.
  • Adopting a new housing ordinance allowing more organizations to offer emergency housing.
  • Increasing funding to enable certain shelters to operate 24/7.
  • Providing land and funding for a new Plum Street tiny house village.
  • Managing a temporary emergency tent site where homeless residents can get basic services in a safe environment.
  • Ensuring that police and other first responders have the resources and support they need to enforce current public health and safety laws and regulations.

But we all know this is not enough. 

Homelessness is almost never a choice. It’s usually the result of unemployment, the inability to afford rising rents, domestic violence or other personal issues, including drug addiction and mental health problems.

The city can’t fix all the underlying causes, but we must address the resulting issues – especially increased public health risks and incidents requiring police response.

We must improve and build on our current efforts while doing everything we can to prevent homelessness and deal more effectively with the corrosive impacts on the quality of life in our community.

Elected officials, interest groups and businesses need to work together to find creative solutions to this emergency. We do not need council members sniping at one another over whether we are providing enough “leadership” or promising “bold actions” without any details.

As your mayor, I will not be satisfied until every member of our community has access to adequate housing, and that every Olympia resident feels safe and welcome throughout the community.


Here is a link to my Facebook post on homelessness in Olympia.

Committee to Elect Cheryl Selby
120 State Ave NE #211
Olympia, WA 98501
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