City of Lacey: Human Services and Homelessness Response

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Submitted by City of Lacey

Homelessness has been an acute issue for local governments. Previously not a “traditional” core service for many municipalities, cities across the state and country are wrestling with how to respond to this challenge. At the City of Lacey (City), we’ve developed programs, many of which have continued to evolve over the past few years, to meet the needs of the community. One of our programs is the Community Resource Unit (CRU).

For nearly four years, Officer Justin Beltran served on the City’s CRU, a special unit within the Lacey Police Department. The CRU provides daily outreach to some of the community’s most vulnerable members, including individuals who are houseless or in crisis. While on the CRU, Beltran worked daily to build meaningful and trusting relationships to help individuals connect with needed resources to improve their quality of life. Like many City programs, the CRU’s approach to building relationships is rooted in dignity, compassion, empathy, and teamwork. 

Since the start of this program, hundreds of people have accessed services, such as housing, financial, and behavioral services, due to the diligent work of the CRU and other City social service programs. Officer Beltran received the following voicemail from a previously houseless individual he helped get the resources they needed:

“I just wanted to let you know that I got an apartment and that I’m actively setting up my financial disability … I just wanted to say thank you for your hospitality and good deeds and I appreciate it and you helped me out a lot and just wanted to let you know that your effort was not done in vain.”

Their message highlights the positive impact of this program.

While Officer Beltran is no longer serving on the CRU, his and other past officer’s efforts were instrumental in making this program a success for the community and the many vulnerable individuals it has helped and will help in the future. Today, the CRU consists of a Lacey Police Sergeant, two Lacey Police Officers, a Police Records Specialist, and a therapy dog, Trip. The CRU continues to advance the goal of the program, which is to help those in need achieve improved outcomes.

“CRU, is here for the community,” said Lacey Police Sergeant Kevin Landwehrle. “The CRU approaches our homeless community with compassion first and enforcement as a last option. The CRU and Mobile Outreach Team offer individuals experiencing homelessness the opportunities needed to better their situation and life.”

The CRU is one of many ways the City actively engages in responding to, and disrupting the root causes of, homelessness and community members in crisis.

three people standing outside the Lacey Police building
Photo courtesy: City of Lacey

The Mobile Outreach Team (MOT), started in 2021 in partnership with Olympic Health and Recovery Services, is a community-based team with the ability to respond and provide crisis services. MOT is embedded with the Lacey Police Department and serves in both co-responder and independent responder roles. MOT responds to situations with or without law enforcement, and helps community members in crisis by providing de-escalation services and much-needed resources. Each MOT consists of two people: a crisis clinician, and a peer specialist. There is also a designated crisis responder, who provides evaluations for involuntary treatments and assesses risk and safety factors of clients in crisis.

MOT uses wrap-around services provided by community partners such as: Community Action Council, South Sound Behavioral Hospital, Animal Services (SNAP), Family Support Center, Drexel House, Department of Social and Health Services, Behavioral Health Resources, PiPE, Hope Village, Sea Mar, WorkSource, Catholic Community Services, SafePlace. Housing Authority of Thurston County, and many more.

Since the program began, the City has experienced an increase in collaboration and communication between law enforcement and behavioral health practitioners. In addition, the City has had a decrease in arrests, psychiatric hospitalizations, and repeat calls for service.

Policewoman kneeling a homeless camp with a person and lots of jugs of water around them.
Photo courtesy: City of Lacey

Other impactful City programs include the creating the Rapid Response Team (provides rapid clean-up and debris removal in public spaces), working as a partner in the Regional Housing Council, aiding regional supportive housing efforts, and others.

To learn more, see the City of Lacey website.

Together We Can Do Great Things

At a recent Commission on Equity meeting, Commissioner Kim Sauer read a quote from Mother Teresa during the Inspirational Item, a moment set aside to celebrate, reflect, and as the name suggests, inspire:

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

Upon reflection, this quote serves as a perfect summary of the City’s approach to helping address the existing and complex needs of the community. 

There are many social efforts and programs the City can directly engage in; however, it often takes collaboration and partnership to do great things. The City’s approach to tackling prevailing social issues, like houselessness, behavioral health, food insecurity, and inequities, requires collaboration often with a combination of federal, state, and local partners.

City-Partner Programs

In addition to the direct services described above, the City financially supports and collaborates with many community partners to enhance community services and positive outcomes.

Here’s what a few partners have to say about our work together…

Senior Services for South Sound – Synergy in Partnership

As people age, they may face challenges that can impact their quality of life and well-being, including loneliness and isolation. Senior Services for South Sound provides opportunities for social interaction, community engagement, and programs that combat social isolation.

“Without any doubt, the seniors of Lacey benefit tremendously from the partnership between Senior Services for South Sound and the City,” states Executive Director Brian Windrope. “[the partnership]is a shining example of a municipal [and] non-profit partnership, leveraging the best of what each can provide in a cost-effective way.”

Over the past two years, the City has provided funding to Senior Services for the South Sound to pilot the Home Share Program. This program is a living arrangement where Home Providers offer accommodation to Home Seekers in exchange for an agreed upon level of support. This support may include financial contributions, assistance with household tasks or transportation, companionship, or a combination. This program aims to make the cost of living more affordable in a difficult housing market. Many Providers and Seekers who apply to the program are living on a fixed income and home sharing can provide mutually beneficial, affordable housing options for both parties.

Since placements began in March 2022, this program matched 17 Home Sharers and Seekers in Lacey, and a total of 29 Home Sharers and Seekers program wide.

To learn more about this program, visit the South Sound Seniors website.

Lacey Veterans Services Hub – a City Program With Many Partners

Nearly 30,000 veterans live in Thurston County. Of these, around eight percent (8%) live below the poverty line and about twenty-six percent (26%) have a serious disability. Across Washington State, 23 percent (23%) of all suicides are veterans.  Dishearteningly, nearly half of all veterans never access earned benefits. In Thurston County, this number is currently forty-six percent (46%), which is a significant uptick over the past few years, due in large part to the work of the Lacey Veterans Services Hub (Hub).

In 2016, the City was instrumental in getting the Hub started with community partners, including Thurston County. Today, the Hub is one of the best examples of what’s possible with City and local partnerships. What began as a handful of service providers has now reached over 140, providing veterans, service members, and their family members a single location to get support for a range of services, including behavioral health services, housing, employment, education, financial support, and more.

“Thanks to our partnership [with the City] we have been able to assist over 6,500 Veterans in receiving the assistance they need,” stated Lacey Veterans Services Hub Manager Keith Looker. “This was evident in the Veteran Affairs’ report on Compensation Benefits where they listed Thurston County as having the highest percentage of Veterans receiving VA benefits in Washington State.”

“This successful partnership has also encouraged other communities in the region to establish similar Hubs in their communities to assist Veterans,” continued Looker.

To learn more about the Hub, visit the Lacey Veterans Services Hub website.

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