Washington’s Governor Inslee issued an order on March 23 prohibiting people from leaving home except for essential activities at least through April 6. The order exempted “individuals experiencing homelessness.” So if you’re homeless, you’re not illegal, just on your own. The order said nothing about people locked up — either officially imprisoned or “detained,” which is like prison but you’re not convicted of anything and the sentence is indefinite.
Thurston County homeless
Local volunteers. This January, Thurston County volunteers counted over 1000 people living without adequate shelter. Volunteers with Just Housing Olympia (JHO) will be working with Partners in Prevention Education (PiPE) and others involved with the Greater Regional Outreach Workers League (GROWL) to support unhoused neighbors. JHO will help distribute survival supplies and food to people living outdoors. They are also coordinating with other community advocates to support low-income people and tenants, and to advocate for economic and health protections. For ways you can help, visit Just Housing Olympia.
Public institutions. The County Board of Health received a $1 million state grant to address the impact of COVID19 on people with no homes. According to Acting Olympia City Manager Jay Burney, as of March 25, the County began working to take the following steps:
Expand shelter capacity and existing 24-hour shelter offerings. Move beds 6 ft apart at shelters. To maintain capacity, the city has offered use of a vacant building at 2828 Martin Way. Provide meal and hygiene product delivery to encampments to allow for “shelter” in place. Provide portable toilets, hand washing stations, and garbage pick-up. Setting up quarantine and isolation spaces.
With County assistance, ten high risk individuals moved from the Downtown Mitigation site into hotel rooms. More options are being considered.
People held in the Northwest Detention Center. GEO Group continues to detain approximately 800 people in close quarters at NWDC, in violation of social distancing orders. This has created the potential for a devastating outbreak of COVID-19 at the Center. While Governor Inslee has expressed concern about the issue no action has been taken. According to RCW 43.06.220, when a state of emergency is declared, the governor can ‘’issue an order prohibiting such other activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.’’
Supporters of the people held at NWDC are asking the Governor to use his emergency authority to release people from the Center and to prevent new detentions and deportations. More information and instructions to contact officials is at La Resistencia’s Facebook page.
Department of Corrections. There is no consideration of compassionate release from prisons at this time, but the DOC in February adopted a set of measures to deter the spread of COVID19. As of March 28, there were 5 confirmed cases in the system. You can see a comprehensive and detailed day-by-day description of all actions and occurrences at prisons and work release sites at the DOC’s “daily situation report.”