Many community members have reached out to us with concerns about the City’s recent launch of the Rapid Response Team– a team tasked with “cleaning” and “monitoring” unsanctioned encampments and with keeping camps from re-establishing once they have been “cleaned.” We share the concerns and questions that have been relayed to us about what the true purpose of this team is and how they are expected to carry out their responsibilities.
This morning, we submitted questions to City of Olympia staff and Council Members in hopes of getting some clarification around our questions and concerns (see below for the complete email).
While we understand that there are a lot of questions listed, we also believe it’s reasonable and important for community members to have answers to these questions. Furthermore, we are sure that staff have considered and planned for these questions prior to launching the program. So hopefully, answers should be readily available and easy to provide. We will keep the community updated with any answers we receive.
Full Email to City Manager Steve Hall, city staff, the Mayor, and Council Members
Steve et al., with CC’s to the Mayor and Council Members,
Just Housing has a number of concerns and questions related to the City’s launch of the Rapid Response Team (RRT).
What we have heard from community members, the City’s press release, and recent news articles has left us with uncertainty about what the purpose of the RRT is, what their specific responsibilities are, and how they are expected to carry them out.
If you or other City staff could assist us with achieving more clarity around this issue by responding as soon as possible with answers to the questions listed below, it would be much appreciated. They are also attached as a Word Document.
We understand that there are a lot of questions listed. At the same time, we believe it’s reasonable and important for community members to have answers to these questions. Furthermore, we are sure that staff have considered and planned for these questions prior to launching the program. So hopefully, answers should be readily available and easy to provide.
Questions Related to City of Olympia’s Rapid Response Team
Is the core purpose of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) to assist unsanctioned camps with increased access to health and safety services (like garbage removal) and monitor the residents’ well-being or to remove camps (garbage & people) and keep camps from re-establishing once removed by carrying out consistent clearings of people and their property?
Simply, is the purpose to support and facilitate the health and safety of unsanctioned camps or to clear and/or facilitate the clearing of them?
If the latter is the purpose or part of the purpose of the RRT:
· Will RRT staff be the ones responsible for telling people camping on public property that they need to vacate the property?
o If yes, what alternative locations will be offered to people camping on public property who are told to relocate by RRT staff? What support will RRT be providing or connecting residents with to help them relocate to the alternative locations offered? Will the RRT be requiring people to vacate the property even if 24/7, legal, appropriate shelter is not immediately available?
o More specifically, other than the mitigation site, which seems to be full most of the time, and the Plum Street Village, which does not appear to accept residents directly from unsanctioned camps, what other 24/7 locations will be offered for someone to relocate to with their camping possessions?
o Will storage be offered to people who are told to relocate? If yes, how will stored property be cataloged, where will it be kept, and what would the process be by which an individual could claim their property? What sort of verification of ownership would they need to offer?
o How much time will people be given to relocate once told to leave by the RRT? The City of Olympia has a policy that directs city staff to give people camping on public property a 72-hour notice to vacate the property. Will the RRT be adhering to this policy when telling folks they need to relocate? If no, why not?
· Will the RRT be following the same procedures for all camps on public property regardless of whether they are considered “established” or “re-established”? E.g., will “established” sites be given more time to vacate the site than a camp that has been “re-established”?
o If the procedures followed will be different based on whether the camp is “established” or “re-established”, how will the RRT/City of Olympia be distinguishing between “established” and “re-established” encampments? What criteria is the RRT/City using to qualify a camp as “established”? (i.e length of stay, amount of property, # of people, etc.)
· If a person camping on public property refuses to leave when told to by the RRT, what next steps will be taken? For example:
o Will law enforcement be contacted?
o Will the Crisis Response Unit be contacted?
o Will the person/people be left alone/allowed to stay?
o Will they be trespassed? If yes, by whom? Will RRT staff have the authority to trespass people camping on public property? Will people receive either a criminal or civil charge/citation?
· The press release states that, “If campers are at a site, the RRT will engage them and connect them to outreach services.”
o Will these outreach services guarantee immediately available, 24/7, legal and appropriate alternative shelter?
o What outreach services will the RRT be coordinating/partnering with?
· If the camp residents are not present when the RRT goes to an unsanctioned encampment, will the people’s property be immediately moved?
o If yes, The Olympian article states that property will be kept at the Olympia Police Department. How will such property seizures be cataloged, and what would the process be by which an individual could reclaim their property? What sort of verification of ownership would they need to offer? How will the RRT notify the individuals whose items they have moved/inform them of how to reclaim their property?
o If the property is not immediately removed, will a notice to vacate be left?
· The RRT press release states that, “The City expects the RRT will help reduce the need for law and code enforcement in responding to unmanaged encampments and shrink the number of massive clean-up interventions down the line.”
o How does the City envision the need for involvement by law and code enforcement to be reduced?
o What manner of involvement by these departments does the City still envision regarding unsanctioned camps?
It also states that, “The team will…respond to citizen complaints regarding homeless-related issues…”
· The above statement is very broad. What are the specific concerns/complaints that the RRT will be responsible for responding to? For example:
o If a housed citizen complains that a new camp is being set up nearby, or that an empty camp has a new tent set up there, will the RRT be expected to cause such camps to be vacated as a response to the complaint?
o If citizens complain that the City is not providing appropriate alternative locations for residents of a camp being involuntarily removed, will the RRT ensure that 24/7 legal alternatives are actually available for those camp residents about to be displaced from their camp?
o If citizens, including encampment residents, complain that the health and well-being of residents of a particular camp, and the community in general, are being threatened by lack of access to services like garbage removal, port-a-potties, hygiene services, and clean water, will the RRT take steps to ensure that such services are made available to the residents of that camp?
· Mark Moore, RRT leader, is referred to in The Olympian as saying that if called to private property, the team will refer the case to code enforcement officers, and if people are actively camping there, they will call police.
o What will the police be expected to do?
o How might this apply to possible complaints about residents of the Jungle?
o How will the RRT respond to complaints about the unsanctioned camps on WSDOT property along Wheeler Avenue? Will police be called there as well?
· The Olympian article also states that the team picked up trash in multiple areas around The City.
o If bagged garbage from encampments were to be placed along the City right of ways near encampments, would the RRT collect those bags and transport them to the dump?
· The City’s press release states that, “The two dedicated Rapid Response Team members take a proactive focus on monitoring unmanaged encampment areas.”
o What does “monitoring” mean/what does it include in this context? What information are they gathering and to whom is it reported?