Homelessness and Ordinances in Olympia

In December of 2012, I issued this challenge to the Olympia City Council — But did they meet the challenge? If not, isn’t it time for a change?

In the wake of the Olympia City Council’s decision to ban camping on City properties and their complete ban of sitting or lying on sidewalks I want to offer a few thoughts in response.

Many cities across the nation (including Olympia in the past) have taken similar steps in trying to address conditions in their downtown cores. No ordinance such as these has ever been effective. Not a single one has solved anything — they’ve literally done nothing. It is a political tactic and only serves to conjure the illusion of action toward a solution.

What these ordinances actually do is wholly detrimental. They perpetuate the stereotype that people who are homeless are dangerous criminals who need to be physically removed from the commons. They alienate, frustrate, and anger members of the advocacy community — the very people who would be Council’s greatest allies in crafting real, permanent solutions to homelessness.

Council assured us that this is only the beginning of a larger conversation and promised that they will engage members of the community in the future in order to come up with long term solutions. These promises tend to fall on deaf ears in the moment because they are made in a vacuum of trust. Our City Council does not have a history of following through on such promises. Granted, this is a different council than previous incarnations who have passed similar ordinances and made those same promises, this matters little to many who continue to struggle on our streets, or advocate for them.

I would challenge Council to be different. I would challenge the advocacy community as well to be different.

Council, now is the time to for you to step up and really listen. Engage those people who have been offering themselves, their ideas, and their energy to you over these last few months during the course of your proceedings on these ordinances. Don’t let the passion and spirit of so many be wasted, leaving only space for adversity.

Advocates, don’t let the Council get away with it again. Continue coming to these meetings and holding their feet to the fire. Engage your clients, participants, and peers to do the same. Come armed with data, anecdotes, and ideas. Don’t fall back on anger and resentment.

These ordinances, while misguided, don’t have to be the end. This really can be the beginning of a new way. It’s up to us to ensure it. The City won’t do it without us. Without us, they will continue to pass these kinds of ordinances. Let’s show them that we’re serious, and that we’re unwavering in our belief in the power of community, teamwork, and love.

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