Last week I attended a forum at St. Michael’s parish about a new proposed homeless shelter in Olympia. The shelter would be a low barrier shelter, recognizing some of the conditions that are obstacles at existing shelters and creating a place for people to go when they normally wouldn’t have another option.

The current proposed location is near the Eastside neighborhood, where I am a resident. The reaction among many of my neighbors was swift and sharp, with many opposed. While I am mindful of their concerns, through my engagement on the homelessness issue in Olympia over these past several years I see this, as a potential benefit to the social services available here, especially as it would take over from some existing shelter projects which may not be sustainable in the long-term.

At the forum, the over 200 attendees broke into small groups to talk among themselves, and then each table reported back to the whole. The organizers of the shelter–including Interfaith Works, of which TBH is a member–took notes and are preparing a response to the neighborhood residents. While there were some complaints about who was notified when, that issue I believe has passed, and we can move forward with thinking through this important project.

from The Olympian

At the forum in our small groups, we were asked to talk about two topics: what are our concerns about the project, and what are our hopes for the project. Most of the concerns were what were reported out in local media-everything from safety, to potential drug abusers and sex offenders walking in the neighborhood, to declining property values, to our neighborhood bearing the brunt of most social services in our town. What dismayed me however is that when it came time for listing the hopes, most people just listed hopes that were really masquerading as concerns-“I hope the shelter goes somewhere else,” for example. Even if people had concerns about this shelter project, there was little evidence that people wanted to at least engage with the positive possibilities that the question of hope presented.

So to answer those questions, I would like to share a few of my own concerns and hopes for this shelter project.

I am concerned that…

…we are unrealistic about our fears.

…we assume the worst of those we don’t know.

…People are unable to think beyond their own self interest.

…There are those who are not part of communities of service, like churches and synagogues, and so don’t see service to others as a value.

…we discriminate based on circumstance.

I hope that…

…we can all see ourselves as wanting to contribute to a common solution to a problem that affects all of us.

…we take responsibility for one another.

…we recognize that we all want the same thing: a safe place to stay, a roof over our head, an outlet to charge our cell phone, a place to be with our partner, security for our children.

…people have a place to stay this winter and will ultimately find stable housing.

…none of my neighbors wind up homeless.

It’s not to say that addressing the social issues which confront us is an easy process. I’m concerned that we may not have all the answers, but I hope that we can expand the conversation and do our best for each other.

2 responses to “Concerns and Hopes”

  1. Marc Brenman Avatar
    Marc Brenman

    How about putting the homeless shelter in a rich neighborhood?


  2. Marc Brenman Avatar
    Marc Brenman

    But really, your questions and concerns are good ones. And having 200 people show up for such a conversation sounds terrific.


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