Weigh in on October 19
People sleeping in tents and on park benches are only the most visible of those who suffer from being houseless in Thurston County. For Olympia alone, the 2021 “point in time” count of people experiencing homelessness—notoriously an undercount—found “1,145 people experiencing homelessness in 2021, divided into three categories: unsheltered (639), sheltered (337), and transitional housing (169).” (The Olympian, May 15, 2021)
County school districts have found rising levels of homelessness among students and their families. Besides students living in cars or tents, older students often live with people outside their nuclear families; some families double up with friends or relatives in housing meant for far fewer residents.
In 2018, voters in Olympia approved an addition to the sales tax of .1% to create a “Home Fund” that could help address the problem of homelessness in the city. Olympia uses about 60% for building housing and 40% for services for people who need affordable housing
Now Thurston County Commissioners are ready to consider whether to pass a county-wide version of that tax. This tax would be .1% of retail sales, or 1 cent on a $10 purchase. These funds would be used mostly to build housing for the homeless population
In 2020, Olympia had taxable retail sales of $2.38 billion, and at 0.1% had Home Fund tax revenues of about $2.3 million. Similarly, in 2020 Thurston County with retail sales of $6.6 billion could have collected another $4.22 million.
Because building housing is expensive and the need so great, even a county-wide Home Fund tax will not solve the county’s homeless population problem. But such a tax would provide a steady annual stream of funding that could be creatively leveraged.
An example is the new $20.4 million facility underway at 2828 Martin Way. It will provide shelter beds for 60 people and apartments for 65 people.
The city’s Home Fund provided the land and some money. Most funding is from state and federal grants obtained through the city’s partnership with LIHI and Interfaith Works. In addition, Interfaith Works is campaigning for private donations and is about 25% of the way toward raising $2 million needed to complete the project.
There will be a public hearing on Oct 19 at 3 pm to hear views on the proposed tax.
Charlotte Persons is a member of the League of Women Voters and on the board of Black Hills Audubon. She follows Thurston Co. development issues for WIP.