FAQs & Educational Links

Low Barrier shelter: Check out this powerpoint presentation from the thurston County Homeless Coordinator to see how low-barrier shelter fits in to the service network!

For the most comprehensive answers to all of your questions please refer to this extensive document. Below are simple answers to FAQs.

What is “low-barrier” or “shelter first”?
Low-Barrier or Shelter First is a model of service delivery that provides for the basic needs of street dependent people in order to get them off the streets. It prioritizes the provision of shelter and basic needs FIRST so that street dependent people can more easily access other services next (i.e. housing programs, substance use treatment programs, mental health support programs). In practice, this means:
  • Individuals will be encouraged to participate in available programs but not required.
  • Sobriety will not be required, however, there will be no drug or alcohol use on the premises.
  • Each person that comes to the shelter will have a formal intake and registration interview with a trained staff member but will not be denied service without valid ID.
  • Couples will be able to stay together.
  • There will be secure storage space for personal items.
  • Service animals and companion pets will be accommodated.

Links to Resources and Allied Projects:
Examining the myths about low-barrier shelter - Olympia Power and Light article, October 30, 2013.
Why Low Barrier Services matter - An article from Shalom Community Center Interfaith shelter in Bloomington, IN.
Love Overwhelming low-barrier shelter - Shelter program in Longview, WA
Project Zero-Coordinate Thurston - Thurston County Homeless Coordinator website.
Project Zero library - Resources on most things homelessness!
Project Zero blog - Thurston County Homeless Coordinator blog, frequent updates and info on homelessness.
Project Zero local data - Thurston County Homeless Coordinator explains local data.
Project Zero myths and facts - Thurston County Homeless Coordinator explains myths and facts related to our Thurston County homeless community.
National Coalition for the Homeless - facts about homelessness, public policy recommendations
Why Some Homeless Choose The Streets Over Shelter-NPR story - Interviews with currently/formally homeless and service providers on why people choose to remain unsheltered.
Whatcom County Plan to End Homelessness - Check out Whatcom County's ten-year plan.
Seattle Urban Rest Stop - a project of the Low Income Housing Institute, providing a clean, safe and welcoming facility where individuals and families can come and use restrooms, shower and laundry facilities
Sidewalk - Olympia volunteer-operated “one stop shop” for shelter and housing services for homeless adults. Their mission is to end homelessness through community engagement and coordination of resources
DESC - Award winning Seattle Downtown Emergency Service Center who works to end the homelessness of vulnerable people, particularly those living with serious mental or addictive illnesses.

Some frequently asked questions:

What is the population referred to as “hardest to house” or "chronically homeless"?

This term refers to people with more complex needs and multiple challenges --  mental illness(es), addiction(s) and other conditions or disabilities, justice-system histories -- who are most often excluded or limited in accessing shelter or housing. Chronically homeless individuals have experienced homelessness continuously for at least one year or have had four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. The majority of this population is not associated with violent behavior.

If you are not asking for valid ID, how will you track who is staying at the shelter?

Each person that comes to the shelter will have a formal intake and registration interview with a trained staff member. We will use the federally mandated Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to track the guests staying at The People’s House. This database tracks demographic information necessary for receiving public funds such as Thurston County HOME funding.  This will enable us to track our guests. 

As a social service provider, we reserve the right to run a background check or sex offender check on any guest that poses a legitimate threat to self or others –including staff, volunteers, other shelter guests and the community at large.

What happens if someone has a weapon?

We have a strict no weapons policy. However, as professionals we know that people living on the streets sometimes have weapons to protect themselves. This means that someone can check an approved weapon into a trained staff member and it will be labeled, held in a secured safe box and returned to the person when they leave the shelter.  This is usual practice in many institutions including jails and mental health treatment facilities. There is a list of banned weapons at the shelter to maintain a base level of safety including firearms.

If you are not automatically running background checks how will you know if a convicted sex offender is staying there?

By law, it is the responsibility of the convicted sex offender to register his/her/their address. When a registered sex offender is homeless, it is required for that person to list the shelter as their address. Law enforcement agencies work with shelters in Washington State and across the country to monitor homeless sex offenders.

Can registered sex offenders legally reside close to a public or private school, such as the St. Michael School, Madison Elementary or Avanti High School?

For the most part, yes they can. The exception is the Community Protection Zone conviction: Certain sex offenders convicted after July 2005 with a first "two strikes" sex offense against a minor and sentenced to be under community custody are not allowed within 880 feet of a school. If the chosen site for The People’s House is located within that proximity to a school, we will follow the letter of the law.  If such a person comes to the shelter, by law we will be unable to provide services for that individual. Such individuals represent 1%-3% of all sex offenders in WA State. These rare cases are intensely monitored by the Department of Corrections and local authorities. It is the responsibility of the convicted individual to report their status to our agency. This policy will be clearly communicated in the client intake and registration process that each individual will undergo. In the event that we do encounter an individual with a Community Protection Zone conviction, we will not provide shelter services for that person.

Are people allowed to use drugs or drink there?

No. While people are not required to be sober when they enter our facility, they are not allowed to use drugs or drink alcohol in or around the grounds of the shelter. The exception is the use of tobacco outside the facility in the designated outdoor area only. This will be monitored closely by staff. Further, all of our guests will be required to abide by a Good Neighbor Policy adapted from the Downtown Emergency Service Center in Seattle, WA who has provided emergency shelter and supportive housing in Seattle since 1979.

In order to preserve neighborhood relations, all of our guests at The People's House agree to abide by the good neighbor policy. This policy states specifically;

1. No littering in the neighborhood.
2. No loitering in the neighborhood.
3. No yelling or fighting on the People’s House porches, or in the neighborhood.
4. No panhandling in the neighborhood.
5. No purchasing of drugs or drug paraphernalia in the neighborhood.
6. No annoying, bothering, or disturbing of neighbors, businesses, or other people in the 

Why would we put funding into providing shelter?

Best practices of homeless management include a comprehensive network of services starting with high access emergency shelter and ending with affordable home ownership. Without adequate shelter, programs like rapid re-housing, transitional housing programs and permanent supportive housing cannot move as many people out of homelessness. Without an entry point, people are unable to efficiently move through the network of services and out of homelessness.

Will The People’s House attract more homeless people from surrounding areas into our community and neighborhood?

We do not expect this trend to occur based on information in the 2013 Thurston County Homeless Census -- Last Permanent Residence poll:
This data is consistent across eight years of Thurston County homeless census data. Homeless people, just like housed people tend to migrate towards urban hubs. Olympia is the urban hub of Thurston County and the majority of our unsheltered homeless are already from here.
  • 80% of unsheltered individuals are from within Thurston County
  • Of those from Thurston County, 47% are from Olympia
  •  14% are from Washington State
  •  6% are from other states
How will you keep us informed of the shelter plans?

Interfaith Works and its partners are committed to a full public process. To date, we have held 3 public forums in various venues including churches and The Olympia Center. We have presented our proposal to the Olympia Downtown Association, the Parking Business Improvement Association, the Olympia City Council Land Use Committee, the Coalition of Neighborhoods Association and a number of other residents, businesses, social service providers and citizens of Olympia. The Olympian has reported a number of stories about the shelter dating back to the winter of 2012.

Once a formal site has been finalized, a conditional use permit process will begin as required by law. Part of this process includes a formal public hearing with the submission of the change of use permit in regards to the final site. The Olympia City Council will have a vote on whether to approve the permit.