Why we support reducing shelter barriers related to IDs and Background Checks

Less than a year ago, Just Housing’s advocacy led to amendments to Olympia’s Temporary Emergency Housing Facilities Ordinance. These amendments are, in part, what made the Mitigation Site and Plum Street Tiny Home Village possible.

One aspect of the changes made by The City of Olympia, was reducing the barriers around ID/Background Checks/Reporting requirements.

The Thurston County Board of Commissioners is now working on amending their own version of the ordinance.

While there are many positive changes in the currently proposed amended version of Thurston County’s Emergency Housing Facilities Ordinance, it still has the same background check/reporting requirements as the original. The requirements are high-barrier and limit the potential effectiveness of the ordinance.

Just Housing supports the county further amending the ordinance language around ID/Background Check/Reporting requirements in a way that mirrors those made by The City of Olympia, so that the ordinance allows for but does not mandate these requirements.

Why we believe this change merits further consideration and discussion:

  • Host/sponsor agencies should be able to determine who can and cannot access their shelter/encampment. (Ex. Allowing the agencies to determine what levels of sex offenders-if any- they will accept and whether or not they will accept people with active warrants.)
  • Most shelters, including The Mitigation Site, have lower-barrier background check/reporting requirements. These lower-barrier requirements have been successful enough to not require amendments and have not been shown to jeopardize the public safety of neighbors and the surrounding community.
  • A considerable number of people living on the streets do not have ID and are unable to obtain it for numerous reasons (inability to obtain other proof of identification, costs, no address, etc).
  • Background checks/reporting requirements are currently one of the most significant barriers keeping people from accessing shelter and services. Failing to adopt lower-barrier screening requirements will severely limit who the amended version of the ordinance will impact, as a sizeable number of people will still be unable to access safe and legal shelter.
  • There are no laws that ban people with sex offenses (with the exception of sex offenses involving minors) from private, religious, or public property. Not enabling hosts to decide at their own discretion who they will allow at their encampment is creating an unnecessary barrier.
  • Banning people with warrants/requiring providers of services to report people with warrants does not improve community safety. For one, most warrants those who are unsheltered have are for non-violent and minor crimes. Further, if this is the requirement, people with warrants will simply continue to not access services, which inhibits our ability as a community to effectively respond to this crisis.
  • Making it so that all sex offenders cannot access any sanctioned shelter makes our community more unsafe. It is statistically proven that the more unstable people’s living conditions are, the more likely it is that people with sex offenses will re-offend. This is why people’s sex offender level increases when they become homeless. Enabling hosts/sponsors to determine what levels- if any- of sex offenders they will accept increases the likelihood that even people with sex offenses will be able to access safe and legal shelter, improving the general safety of our community.
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