Homeless population in downtown Olympia skyrockets

OLYMPIA, Wash. — City officials said the number of tents has increased tenfold in less than three months, from 30 tents in August to more than 300 tents in November.

“They’re not happy, no one’s happy with this. No one wants this,” said Homeless Response Coordinator Colin DeForrest.

Including Justin McIntyre, who owns King Solomon’s Reef Café and Lounge. His diner sits about a block from one of the city’s homeless camps.

“I hear a lot of, ‘Let’s just kick everyone out,’ and, it’s like, 'I have had these thoughts myself.' On a humanitarian level, I understand that that’s not a viable choice. It still sucks though to be like, I realistically might go out of business because people don’t want to shop on my block because of the homeless population,” said McIntyre.

The city said it’s working to make changes. Monday, city workers will begin slowly clearing lots to create a mitigation site.

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“The goal of the mitigation site is to be that first positive step for some of these individuals,” said DeForrest. “It’s no longer going to be OK to be in the City of Olympia’s parking lot. We’re going to find a better option for you, and if you don’t want to do that, then Olympia might not be the spot for you.”

The mitigation site will be at Olympia Ave. NE and Franklin St. NE, which is a current homeless camp. It’ll be a first-come, first-serve site, fitting 80 people. Each person gets a 10-by-10-foot spot and a tent.

DeForrest said it’ll be fenced with bathrooms, running water and trash cans.

“I’ve been homeless since I was almost 6, so this is something that’s improved since I was little and I enjoy it,” said Bobbie Alf.

“I don’t know if it’s just going to be a Band Aid to quell the public’s opinion of houseless folks or if it’s going to be a more permanent solution that helps,” said Owl Pickren, who’s homeless.

McIntyre isn’t sure either, but he is happy the city is trying to do something.

“I’m very sympathetic and understanding of the cause. In my shoes I have to walk around in, it’s very hard to not be frustrated,” he said.

City officials said they’re spending about $100,000 to make changes and build the site. Construction begins the week of Dec. 3.