OLYMPIA — Thurston County in 2018 distributed $6.2 million to 22 different nonprofit agencies in the community, which contributes to 40 different programs aiming to address homeless and affordable housing issues.
County officials said the funding sources cover a variety of projects, including funding homeless and housing services, and investing in capital projects such as the construction of affordable housing.
The county also helps in allocating a community development block grant that funds affordable housing, public services and public facilities work.
The Office of Housing and Homeless Prevention within the Department of Public Health and Social Services distributes the funding and leads the county’s response efforts working with other departments and agencies to mitigate public health hazards associated with this crisis. The three elected county commissioners created a homeless and affordable housing coordinator position within that office to help lead this effort and provide recommendations on where the board should focus on policy and resource allocation.
"It's easy to think of homelessness as an issue only affecting other people and communities, until it directly impacts you,” said Keylee Marineau, the county’s new homeless and affordable housing coordinator. We can't build effective responses to homelessness until we all see it as our shared responsibility. That’s the first step in how we build a regional homeless response plan.”
Thurston County has developed strategic tools to begin addressing the issues regionally, including the Thurston County Five-Year Homeless Plan. The plan sets strategic goals for reducing the homeless population numbers during a five-year period, 2017-2022. The county is working to update and revise the plan to include more guidelines, as well as potential amendments to better address the emerging public health crisis.
The county is also participating in the annual Point in Time homeless census to better understand the problem, officials said. In 2018, the PIT counted 835 individuals as homeless or unsheltered in Thurston County, 38 percent of which were families with children. Officials expect to see a significant increase in that number with the 2019 homeless census, which took place Jan. 24.
“I was honored to participate in the Point in Time census at (Rochester Organization of Families) in Rochester this year,” said county Board of Health Vice-Chair Tye Menser. “The census is critical to understanding the various needs and circumstances of our homeless population. I spoke with people facing homelessness for a variety of different reasons, including job loss and disability. I was struck by the reality of the difficulty and dangers this population faces every day.”
The commissioners are holding an all-day session on Thursday dedicated to planning for homeless response activities. The session is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Thurston County Courthouse Complex, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW in Olympia, Building 1, Room 280.
Agenda items include conversations with the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, and discussions about the role of the county Board of Health, mitigation sites, and long-term and short-term action items.
The county has also created a homelessness website .