General FAQ

Do people choose to be homeless?

Some people will say they choose to be homeless, but the full context is often unaddressed. When faced with instability caused by  perpetual low wages, rent hikes, unrenewed leases, evictions and/or foreclosures, many choose to accept consistent homelessness as a way to gain agency in their lives. Being homeless is a much less painful process if one makes the decision for themselves before someone else makes it for them. Likewise, many people have attempted multiple times  to “get out” of homelessness, but have been consistently let down by existing services or the lack thereof. Oftentimes, these folks will also say they choose to stay homeless, if only to gain some sense of control over their own lives and avoid repeated disappointment.

Isn’t it their own fault?

Stagnant wages, disappearing jobs, unaffordable rent, and/or disability/illness coupled with inadequate support services cannot be traced back to an individual’s personal failure. These individuals have been failed by society. This includes people struggling with addiction; the criminalization and isolation of people struggling with substance use only perpetuates their illness, which should be treated as such.

Why don’y they just get jobs?

There have never been enough jobs in the world for every able bodied and willing person. Also, most employers require that applicants have addresses. Others require transportation outside of buslines, which many folks living unsheltered have limited access to. Even more, jobs require folks to maintain personal hygiene, which is extremely difficult to do with inadequate access to shower, bathroom, and laundry services. Of course, not having a stable place to rest and sleep and/or shelter hours that conflict with work hours also interfere with people’s ability to maintain jobs. Even with all of this,  many homeless people do work, but still cannot afford rent.

Why don’t they pick-up their trash?

Garbage is usually the most significant complaint related to homeless encampments. The main cause of this is the fact that encampments do not have access to garbage removal services. Without access to the garbage services that people in houses recieve, it is very difficult for those living in encampments to properly dispose of waste. Just Housing has seen drastic improvement related to garbage at encampments that receive support from Just Housing’s once a week garbage pick-up services. If we want to solve the problem of trash at encampments, we need to ensure that they have access to garbage services.

Why do people defecate in public?

Inadequate access to 24/7 restrooms. People who are homeless have to rely entirely on public restrooms to defecate legally and privately. There are only three 24/7 public restrooms in Olympia, which is nowhere near enough to accomodate the hundreds of people who rely solely on those restrooms for a private place to defecate.

Why don’t they stay in shelters?

Some people have weakened immune systems and cannot risk the increased exposure to communicable illnesses and infestations that come with living in close quarters with dozens of other people. Others have been traumatized by staff or participants in shelters. Shelters often also limit the belongings one can have, which restricts those with camping gear and other possessions. The fact that most shelters are not accessible 24/7 and only provide limited overnight shelter, is one of the most significant reasons people avoid shelters. Loss of autonomy, fear of and/or the likelihood of judgment for one’s gender, sexuality or religious association, and restrictions that make it so people cannot stay with their pets, significant others, or children are other reasons people deny shelter beds. And even if all of these ill effects could be remedied, Thurston County would still be hundreds of beds short on any given night according to 2018 Point in Time (PIT) census data.

Where do all the homeless people come from? Are they all from out of town?

99% of people interviewed in the 2018 PIT Count reported that Thurston County is where they call home and 59% shared that their last permanent address was in Thurston County. Olympia does have a disproportionate concentration of people without housing compared to other cities in the county. This is largely because Olympia is the only city in the county with a downtown core and that provides comprehensive services . It is also true that there are many people who are homeless in our community who are from outside of the county. It is important to recognize that people without homes are not the only ones who move in search of opportunities to better their lives. Many of these folks have had to relocate due to the growing trend of criminalizing homelessness around the country or because of vigilante violence against homeless people, which is more easily avoided when people are able to live together in groups as opposed to in isolation and in hiding. Lastly, there is a community of understanding and accepting people (homeless and housed alike) in Olympia. Who would not seek this when excluded from the larger society?

Isn’t it a drug problem?

While there is overlap between the housing crisis and drug crisis we are experiencing in our communities, they are two different crises. The drug crisis we are experiencing nationwide impacts people who are housed as well as those who are not. National studies have shown that it is incredibly difficult for people to decrease dependence on substances when they have no stable place to live. Lastly, substance use services are significantly under supported in Washington State. It can take weeks to months to get a spot at an inpatient facility. Even more, due to lack of housing, many folks are discharged from inpatient services right back to the streets, which increases the likelihood of relapse.

Isn’t it a mental health problem?

Though a significant number of people who are homeless also struggle with some sort of mental health challenge; these issues are not one and the same. Struggling with homelessness, while also dealing with inadequately supported mental health challenges, can complicate a person’s experience with homelessness and vice versa. Also, similar to struggles with substance use, it can be near impossible for someone to better their mental health without having a stable place to live. Like substance use services, mental health services are incredibly underfunded in Washington State and are difficult for people without a stable place to live to access.

Click here to view an FAQ about Olympia’s “No Sit-Lie” ordinance.

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