Nonprofit Olympia needs more county funding for homeless services

It has been a year since Olympia Mutual Aid Partners began offering on-site case management to homeless people.

With an original goal of serving four camp communities, including Ensign Road and Deschutes Parkway, the nonprofit has since helped people in 15 camps. According to an end-of-year report submitted by OlyMAP to the Regional Housing Council on June 22, the association has served 250 people since June 2021.

Despite the accomplishments, program coordinator Tye Gundel told the housing group that the nonprofit currently has no funding to continue providing these services onsite after June 30, and without it, OlyMAP will temporarily close all operations at the dispersed site on July 1.

Gundel said funding to keep the pilot program alive through next month has yet to be confirmed by the county, which provided the funding in the first place.

Gundel said Friday that the Regional Housing Council was able to identify additional funds that will soon arrive in the county. Some may be assigned to OlyMAP, but a decision is not made until mid-July.

“There’s no guarantee the funding will come to us,” Gundel said. “And that’s not a lot. This would help us bridge the gap and give us time to find the rest of the funding without disrupting services. But that’s not enough for a full year.

Gundel said OlyMAP would like to continue its services the first two weeks of July, in the hope that more funds will be available if needed. She said they will try to make it work until the decision is made.

She said the lack of commitment to county funding is unrelated to the group’s failure to meet program goals. According to the year-end report, 55 of the 250 people served enrolled in OlyMAP’s intensive case management program. And 174 enrolled in other case management programs.

Of those enrolled in the intensive program, 26 were linked to improved shelter or permanent housing. A total of 31 people were connected to a home.

But the schedule wasn’t perfect, and there were several bumps along the way. The report said a lack of alignment or clear goals among stakeholders, as well as sweeps of homeless camps, were among the problems.

The report refers to the Olympia sweeps of Deschutes Parkway and Upper Ensign encampments last winter, which displaced around 50% of the people OlyMAP was working with.

The non-profit organization conducted year-end surveys of 63 residents of two camps to get a sense of how useful their services were. The majority said the case management had a substantial positive impact on them and their ability to find housing. About half said they felt OlyMAP had improved camp safety, and about 73% of people said the nonprofit had improved their connection to resources and other services.

The majority of respondents also said they wanted OlyMAP to continue to provide services to them and their camps in the future.

But the ability to serve people where they are has become difficult over time and more and more camps are being moved. Several encampments along state Department of Transportation property, such as Wheeler Avenue, Ensign Road and Percival Creek, face closure at any time.

“While there are potential new shelter and housing options on the horizon that could provide alternatives for people living in these sites, there will most likely not be enough spaces available for all people facing to displacement,” the report said. “Even more, affected communities and providers are concerned about the compatibility of these options with the unique needs and barriers of the populations they are intended to serve.”

If they can secure the funding, OlyMAP hopes to continue to build relationships with faith communities and hotels across the county to house people until more permanent options become available.

The report says the nonprofit will continue to seek out opportunities to monitor and support the site as much as possible. They will also increase data collection and community education efforts, as well as pursue more sustainable partnerships.

Gundel said the biggest concern is how those they serve will be affected by the lack of services. She said OlyMAP is one of the only homeless nonprofits in the area that provides connections to multiple services like weekly laundry and winter heating and security supplies. Without funding, approximately 40 people would lose regular access to case management.

“To make us disappear overnight is a huge disruption,” Gundel said. “Providing outreach and case management, meeting people where they are is an effective and good way to provide that support.”

This story was originally published June 25, 2022 5:00 a.m.