Late Friday afternoon, Thurston County called for a
"Code Blue" indicating that freezing temperatures
and snow were set to hit the county and they
were asking for all hands on deck to open
additional shelter options for our unhoused neighbors
at highest risk of death in such conditions. First
Christian Church and Interfaith Works jumped on the
call and together opened for overflow starting at 5pm
on Saturday evening.
Here's the stats:
Saturday 2/17: 6 volunteers on site, 85 sleeping overflow, 43 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 128
Sunday 2/18: 12 volunteer, 72 sleeping overflow, 43 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 115
Monday 2/19: 10 volunteers, 82 sleeping overflow, 44 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 126
Tuesday 2/20: 9 volunteers, 115 sleeping overflow, 43 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 158
Wednesday 2/21: 10 volunteers, 103 sleeping overflow, 42 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 145
Thursday 2/22: 6 volunteers, 83 sleeping overflow, 40 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 129
Friday 2/23: 9 volunteers, 113 sleeping overflow, 38 sleeping IW nightly shelter = 151
HUGE SHOUT OUT to all the amazing people in this community who stepped up to volunteer (especially the Board and members of First Christian Church), who dropped off snacks, drinks, paper cups/bowls/plastic utensils, blankets, warm clothing, first aid and over the counter medication supplies, and who shared the need with their communities to get the word out.
Thank you to our IW shelter staff who between the nightly shelter, overflow and Community Care Center have been supporting 24/7 availability of services since Saturday evening, and thank you to the city of Olympia for assisting garbage, supplies and coordination of volunteers.
Thank you to Thurston County Public Health under the leadership of Director, Schelli Slaughter for taking the leap to coordinate a community wide response to increase cold weather options for people and making this Code Blue happen. Shout out to County Commissioner Bud Blake for personally staffing an overnight shift and talking with people all night. Until elected officials understand the weight of this issue and decide to prioritize it, we will continue to see solutions under resourced and overwhelmed.
Many other agencies are also stepping up to provide additional shelter beds during this time -- Family Support Center, Community Youth Services, Union Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army. This is a major effort from many partners to make this possible!!! Thank you everyone!
Another very important outcome that I want
to share is about the positive impact
the overflow shelter has had on
the Community Care Center (CCC). As you
may know, there have been ongoing challenges with
overnight (after-hours) camping at the Community Care
Center. There have been many complaints
from community members, business
owners and passers-by that something
must be done about it. We agree! The problem is, there
aren't enough shelter beds for all the unsheltered people in our city. In fact, the Thurston County Point in Time effort counted 763 unsheltered people in Thurston County. With only a couple hundred year round shelter beds, skyrocketing rents, no Warming Center or large year round day center... what do we expect to see on our streets, in doorways and in wooded areas surrounding the city? The message we have been sending loud and clear is that if we want to see people off the streets and out of doorways downtown we have to provide them with a place to go that works for them.
This week provided us an opportunity to gather some information that we haven't had the chance to gather yet. What happens with the camping situation outside of the CCC if additional low-barrier shelter options are available to people? What we found was that they went to it and there were significantly less people camping around the outside of the Community Care Center this past week which has a strong positive impact on the people who were able to get inside, and on our relationship with neighbors.
We are now being asked to continue the overflow for another few days to get us through this ongoing cold snap. We can't do it without volunteers and supplies. Please get in touch if you can help with an evening, overnight, or early morning shift and supplies can get dropped off anytime after 5pm to the upstairs of First Christian Church. Right now we will be open TONIGHT 5pm-10am and TOMORROW, Friday 5pm-6:30am. The volunteer run Saturday Warming Center will be at United Churches from 7am-5pm.
We hope that this Code Blue experience can continue to move the conversation forward that when there are sheltering options that work for people and designed with their needs in mind those services get utilized and it takes pressure off of our entire community.
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.