I live in Olympia, WA. Like many State Capital cities, the primary industry is state government. The other major economic contributor here is military personnel stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord. There is some industry here, but it is not substantial.
Olympia is also located at the edge of the Seattle suburban zone. Due to the housing crisis in Seattle, costs of housing around the Puget Sound have skyrocketed.
The lack of job growth coupled with the housing crisis have resulted in a homelessness crisis in the Olympia area, as well as in Seattle and other areas in the Puget Sound. Olympia is unique however.
In close proximity to the State Capitol campus are lands under authority of five different governments, the State of Washington, Thurston County, and the Cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. In addition, there is Native American land in close proximity. The consequence of this is that many of these five governing bodies tend to respond to homelessness by trying to push the problem into someone else’s jurisdiction, or by using the police to arrest people. Putting poor people into jail and prison only feeds the prison-industrial complex, and does nothing to solve the problem.
There is one exception to this. The City of Olympia, with its current leadership, is taking steps to respond to this crisis, but they cannot do it alone!
Because of the ineffectiveness of the governments here, the clergy communities along with several advocacy groups, are working to try to find immediate solutions, so that people can stay safe, free of attack, extreme weather, and arrest. But this is not a sustainable solution, and it does not solve the problem.
So what must be done? After the Great Depression, the Federal Government created a number of public works programs. These put people to work, which restored the economy and self esteem of the individual. Yet after the Great Recession of 2008, the Government gave money to the big banks and auto makers but did nothing to fix the problem.
Our country has a major infrastructure crisis, and so it only makes sense to do public works programs. But these cost money, and of course the neoliberals in Congress and the White House don’t want to spend money on anything except a huge military/prison-industrial complex.
But public works programs create jobs and that results in people paying taxes, and taking out loans, so all industries become whole. Our so called leaders are too short sighted to see this though.
Locally, what can be done? There are a number of items that must be accomplished to end long term homelessness.
These include, but are not limited to:
a) Jobs programs to provide people with livable wages.
b) Education and training programs, designed to accommodate various learning abilities.
c) Improved medical and mental health programs in the area.
d) Access to affordable housing.
Parts of these have been tried in limited ways. But without a full press effort on the part of all governments involved and on local business leaders, this is not sustainable. The work cannot rest on the faith communities. We do not have the resources or expertise to do all the work that is needed.
In the Talmud, Tractate Avot (2:16) is written: (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say: You are not required to finish the work, but neither may you desist from it.
I call on Governor Inslee, the Thurston County Commission, and the Mayors, Managers and Councils of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, to work together, with funding provided at all levels, to find creative solutions to this problem. You cannot continue to sweep it under the rug or push it into someone else’s jurisdiction. Only by working together, smartly and efficiently, can you actually make progress in this situation.