Shelter plan has residents fearful

by: Gary Horcher Updated:

Many residents say they will fight plans for a shelter that would allow sex offenders and drug addicts.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The neglected brown abandoned office-building is tucked away at the end of a quiet industrial-looking cul-de-sac in Olympia.  A playground and a school are within sight of the front walkway. If a group of local churches has their way, 40 people who might be rejected in other shelters will soon call the building home.

And dozens of neighbors intend to fight the plan with everything they have. They packed an open meeting at St. Michael’s Parish Hall Monday night, where members of Interfaith Works were hoping to explain the benefits of the shelter to a fearful crowd.  St. Michael’s administrators told KIRO 7 their camera was not allowed inside the meeting, because it was private property.

People had plenty to say to the KIRO crew in the street outside.

“Should this shelter open it's going to attract sex offenders,” said Olympia City Councilwoman Jessica Archer, who lives nearby. “It's going to attract (sex offenders) from all over Washington possibly Oregon, maybe as far south as Northern California, and that's not the element that they want here."

Interfaith Works admits the shelter will be “low barrier,” accepting people typically rejected by other shelters. That would include sex offenders, drug addicts, felons, transgendered people and even couples with pets. Everyone would have to be screened through Olympia Police and the Department of Corrections.

“I can't take away somebody's fear,” said Heather Moore, representing Interfaith Works at the meeting. “But I can provide a lot of information that would hopefully help their sense of fear." Moore said the shelter would be staffed to provide the area with security. Neighbors like Jessica Archer don’t believe the claim. “We found out about this in the newspaper,” she said. “They were trying to just slip it into our neighborhood without telling us; and they scheduled this forum in response to our outrage is really what happened.''

Archer objects to the shelter’s location. It would be one block from St. Michael’s school, day care and playground; and a few more blocks away from a public elementary school.

“I’m trying to protect our kids,’’ Archer said. “This shelter would allow people who are drug addicted and still using drugs, so actually providing needles and everything for people to use, though they can't use them on site so hmm, I wonder where they're going to use the drugs?"

Thurston County and the City of Olympia would fund “The People’s Shelter” with 430-thousand-dollars in public aid. The meeting at St. Michaels was the second public forum on the controversial project.

“We need to educate people about this,” said Moore. “Sex offenders live among us now. These people need a place to go, instead of the streets,” she added.