Olympia hopes mitigation site combats homeless crisis

Rows of green tents covered with blue tarps line the lot that sits on the corner of Olympia Avenue Northeast and Franklin Street Northeast.

The site is Olympia’s first mitigation site.

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Robert Lytle was one of the first people to move in.

"I can be comfortable and at home and at peace at home, rather than carrying all my stuff all day long waiting for the business to close that I was sleeping at,” he said.

Lytle has been homeless off and on for about two years.

Homeless Response Coordinator Colin DeForrest said there are about 500 homeless people living in Olympia. The number skyrocketed this year.

“What we knew is that we had to do something. By doing nothing, we saw a tenfold increase in the number of unmanaged tents that we had in our downtown area,” he said.

On Dec. 10, the city opened its downtown mitigation site. Backlash from business owners paused the process until Dec. 21.

DeForrest said the site isn’t perfect, but it's night and day from the unmanaged site downtown.

“Yes, you are still outside. No, this is not ideal, but this is something much safer and much better than what we have going on across the street, which is open drug use, large fires, flames in tents,” he said.

“If people ask to go find where a certain drug is, usually people point them over to that parking lot, because that's where they are,” said Lytle, who used to live at the unmanaged camp.

At the mitigation site, city workers assign people a 10-by 10-foot campsite. There are rules, bathrooms, trash and two tiny houses with electricity where assigned camp hosts live.

DeForrest said the mitigation costs about $100,000 a year to run. When it’s full, it’ll house about 140 people.

“Homelessness is not simply going to go away,” he said. "We're trying to safely manage homelessness."

Once the first mitigation site is filled, the city plans to start a second mitigation site. The location hasn’t been determined yet, but DeForrest said it won’t be downtown.

The city of Olympia created a website that addresses the homeless response plan that can be found at this link.