Thurston County Will Spend Up to $1 Million to Manage Homeless Encampments


Thurston County Board of Commissioners have unanimously approved a "scattered-site management" plan that will provide support to three homeless encampments in Olympia for the next year.

Half that money was allocated by the county last October, on the premise that the city would create a legal spot for RVs to park. That plan was shelved after cost estimates rose above $700,000 to set up a chosen site near the intersection of Martin Way and Carpenter Road, as The Olympian reported in March.

More than 200 other sites were identified for RV lots, but county staff said that Carpenter Road was the only viable site because the only jurisdictions willing to host an RV lot were the city of Olympia and the county. (The Carpenter Road site is owned by the city but sits on unincorporated land within Lacey's Urban Growth Area.)

So the city and county pivoted to the "scattered-site" plan, which will fund case managers to work with residents at already-established encampments on Deschutes Parkway, Wheeler Road, and Ensign Road, as well as provide regular garbage collection and RV septic pump out.

"As we look toward the future, we're going to need to come up with more innovative solutions,' said Commissioner Carolina Mejia, who reiterated her desire for the county to invest in something more long-term. "But this is what's available now."

The plan calls for case managers to work individually with residents of all three encampments to put them on waiting lists for housing assistance and establish codes of conduct and self-governance protocols. The goal is two-fold: connect the unhoused people to services, and soothe the anxieties of neighboring landowners and others who are unhappy with the state of the camps.

One of the neighbors the county has in mind is Providence St. Peter Hospital, whose concerns over the RV settlement on Ensign Road adjacent to the hospital were one of the factors that led the city of Olympia to initially order the RVs there to leave last October. That ultimatum was undercut at the last minute by a letter from the Attorney General saying the action would violate the state's eviction moratorium.

Providence reiterated its concerns — including RV residents dumping sewage in nearby wetlands, accumulating trash and debris along the street and sidewalks, and emergency vehicles having to re-route to Lilly Road — in a letter to the county from Chief Executive Darin Goss.

However, Goss said that Providence supports the scattered site proposal, writing that while the Ensign settlement is "growing in a way that is not sustainable," the plan would be "an improvement" and "a step forward."

The letter added that emergency vehicles could return to Ensign Road if the RV settlement is properly managed.

"It is our expectation that the Scattered Site Plan will aid in keeping the streets clear of debris and help keep the surrounding areas clear so emergency vehicles can safely resume their routes along Ensign Road," Goss wrote.

Both Mejia and Commissioner Tye Menser said that Providence's support was key to their decision to approve the scattered- site plan, while Commissioner Gary Edwards, who voted against the RV safe lot funding back in October, said he voted yes out of a desire to "play team ball."

Menser said he spoke with one of the landowners along Deschutes Parkway, who was supportive of the cleanup efforts.

According to the proposal, the funding includes $300,000 in federal grants, with the rest coming from the county's dedicated homeless services funds, which are revenues generated by document recording fees. The county will contract with a case manager, while the city of Olympia will be responsible for cleanup efforts.

The scattered-site program will be reviewed after six months to determine if any changes are needed.