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Where are our elected leaders?

Job lost, rent due, evicted, homeless

After over ten months of an encampment bordering Deschutes Parkway on the privately-owned greenbelt next to the 5th Avenue bridge, the property owners notified the residents that they could not stay past July 23.

But that didn’t happen. The Olympia Police Department didn’t show up to enforce the notices, so the owners had no way to legally make people move. As one result, residents and supporters decided to redirect the days’ efforts from moving/eviction to a camp clean up. Just Housing, volunteers and one of the land owners worked with residents to clear out 4 dumpster loads of garbage. No new date has been set to remove the camp.

As a region, we still regard evidence-based solutions to homelessness as politically risky instead of politically necessary.

While Just Housing Olympia opposes a policy of displacement and “whack-a-mole” sweeps as both immoral and ineffective, that little strip of greenbelt could never be expected to accommodate the unmet need for safe shelter and housing in our community. The decision to sweep this camp rested with the property owners only because we as a region, have failed to take responsibility for our collective issues.

The burden of these issues falls again and again on private property owners, faith communities, camp residents, social workers and community advocates because we still live in a climate of denial and deflection regarding the crisis of homelessness.

In April, Governor Jay Inslee called in National Guard troops to assist at food banks, due to increased need among food insecure families and fewer volunteers.

As a region, we still regard evidence-based solutions to homelessness as politically risky instead of politically necessary. As a region, we still deny that this is our problem to solve and we still deflect responsibility endlessly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Like the anti-maskers, our ability to rationalize has overpowered our ability to reason—we deny that we must act together to save lives, and we ignore evidence that challenges our decision to evade responsibility for the wellbeing of others. This pandemic has caused many of us to reflect more and more on the collective nature of our wellbeing. The need to respond with urgency and action extends beyond this specific situation. With an uncertain economic future ahead of us and the state’s eviction moratorium ending in August, we have every reason to expect the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community to rise.

We are going into this upcoming winter with more homeless people and less shelter beds than we had last year, and no place for homeless individuals to find shelter off the streets during the day. We know that people of color in our community are most at risk, both in terms of eviction and access to housing and shelter.

We live in a community that has turned out in numbers to reject police brutality and racism, but has been shamefully indifferent as people of color are quietly displaced or fall into poverty and homelessness due to gentrification, out-of-control rents, and regressive policies that criminalize the poor.

Just Housing Olympia is a nonprofit group that advocates for people who are houseless, and for renters, as well as finding innovative ways to make up for the absence of effective public housing policy. To learn more, go to Just Housing on Facebook.

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