The mission of Olympia Mutual Aid Partners (OlyMAP) is to support the right of all people to have a safe and warm place to call home. They center the voices of unhoused and marginalized peoples and challenge systems of oppression. They build bridges between housed and unhoused community members through engagement and education. And they offer health, safety, self-management, self-advocacy, and survival support to our neighbors living outdoors.
Our region’s crisis of homelessness, particularly unsheltered homelessness, is a priority issue that continues to harm and divide communities across the region. Forced displacement, or sweeps, without the provision of alternative locations for people to relocate to, has been the historical response to the rise in unsheltered homelessness and existence of unsanctioned camp communities. Approaches such as these have not proven to be effective strategies for ending homelessness or reducing the harms associated with homelessness. Thurston County, especially the City of Olympia, has come a long way in recognizing the ineffectiveness of such approaches. A continued challenge has been developing and gaining support for alternative responses.
OlyMAP was the first local organization to develop and practice a “scattered site approach” to supporting unsanctioned camp communities. In June of 2021, OlyMAP contracted with Thurston County to provide intensive case management and site support services to specific camp communities in Olympia, as part of Thurston County’s 1-year Scattered Site Pilot Project (the pilot). The purpose of this pilot project is to determine the effectiveness of an approach to unsheltered homelessness that does not rely on displacement or criminalization. Instead, it addresses safety, health concerns, and community impacts through connection to services and site support.
This alternative model responds to unsanctioned camp communities as temporary, designated locations. On a basic level, OlyMAP provides essential services (like garbage removal, bathrooms, running and potable water), and survival supplies for warming, shelter, cooking, and safety. OlyMAP also connects these sites to services and case management. Further, they support camp residents with developing and facilitating self-governance systems, which includes addressing issues that impact both residents and neighbors of camp communities.
Providing access to shelter and warmth, regardless of the reason for a person’s circumstance, is a means of practicing acceptance of one another. It demonstrates to our unhoused neighbors that their community believes in their inherent worth as a human being and in the value of their lives. Support from Share the Plate will bring relief, safety, and stability to many members of our community.
Thank you for your attention and other needed contributions!