Home to an extensive park system, multiple college campuses, office parks, manufacturing facilities and startups, the City of Lacey is a hub for many industries and amenities. Over the past decade, Lacey has exploded with opportunities for education, recreation, and economic development. Lacey was even included in Money’s “100 Best Places to Live in America” ranking in 2019.
Accompanying this growth is also an increase in the number of people who are experiencing homelessness in Lacey. As homelessness becomes more prevalent within Lacey city limits and across Thurston County, the City is working with community members, nonprofit organizations, and neighboring municipalities to increase services and help address and prevent homelessness.
Working to help those in need, while also considering the safety of the community, the City of Lacey has historically responded to the often-complicated nature of homelessness by working with nonprofits and supporting local shelter programs. For many years, the City’s homelessness response was able to keep up with the population. However, as the population of people experiencing homelessness has increased, additional services are in demand.
“Like any community, Lacey has always had people who were homeless,” says Rick Walk, director of community development for the City of Lacey. “And for many years, the City’s response matched the population. As the homelessness population has grown, the population has outpaced the services. The City of Lacey is trying to figure out what resources we have and how we can respond to not only providing services to the homeless, but also how to respond to the impacts to the community around the homeless issue.”
To help address homelessness, the Lacey City Council historically created a temporary encampment ordinance, which made it possible for churches and faith organizations to facilitate encampments on their property for 90 days at a time. The City also partners with and provides financial support to local nonprofit organizations that specialize in housing and homelessness issues.
For Veterans facing homelessness, the Lacey Veterans Services Hub offers resources for mental and physical health, housing, food, and education. Recently, the new Lacey Food Bank is gearing up to provide food to individuals and families in need, including those facing homelessness.
The City also created a Community Resource Unit to provide extra support and cultivate relationships with those most vulnerable in the community. “The Community Resource Unit is a really effective tool,” says Walk. “It partners two Lacey Police officers with an outreach services coordinator to contract with the Community Action Council. They are out in the community interacting with the homeless community and developing relationships with them. They identify what needs they have what services are available, and provide a connection. This model has shown initial success.”
In addition to working with local nonprofits, the City of Lacey is also a partner of the Regional Housing Council, working with municipalities across Thurston County to provide proper funding for affordable housing solutions in Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Yelm, and other communities in the region.
“We work with the Regional Housing Council, which makes sure there’s coordination between the funding and services that is aligned with the county’s five-year response plan to homelessness,” says Walk. “It is important to have regional coordination of funding and services with a common purpose going forward. Not only for immediate needs, but we’re also identifying funding for long-term solutions to build more capacity in our shelter and supportive housing system, as well as service providers.”
Striving to comply with state and local laws and maintain safety, the City has started to consider solutions to pressing issues, including long-term RV and car parking, encampment mitigation sites, shelter options, and tiny home villages. Due to the response from members of the community, the City put many concrete steps, including ordinance updates, on pause, to allow a range of voices to provide input.
Out of public interest and response, the Lacey Community Workgroup on Homelessness was created to fully explore and discuss a range of possible services. Comprised of a diverse set of Lacey residents, the workgroup meets regularly to research and discuss the viability of various solutions that could potentially help the City’s homeless population.
The workgroup brings together Lacey residents from many walks of life, including business owners, public school employees, and first responders. Comprised of 30 members, the workgroup’s mission is to research, discuss, and propose potential resources that address the growing homeless population in the city.
At the end of the workgroup’s year-long, community-driven process, group members will present their final recommendations to the Lacey City Council. To fully understand the complicated issues that surround homelessness, the group continues to speak with local mental health counselors, addiction specialists, government employees, shelter workers and those who have experienced homelessness to help formulate potential solutions.
“The Community Workgroup on Homelessness is a resident/stakeholder group that will engage the community to help create possible solutions,” says Walk. “The group learns about the topics, developments, and conditions, and then informs the greater public of the issues through conversations and open houses. The dialogue will help the group create a plan that will recommend community-supported strategies the City can take to address the impacts of homelessness.”