Frequently asked questions about OlyMAP & houselessness

Mutual aid is a voluntary, member-led and member-organized social practice. Every volunteer participates in a capacity that is comfortable for them and there is no hierarchy in the organization structure which means everyone holds a leadership role. Members volunteer for assignments and tasks. Giving mutual aid is the act of helping the greater community through this member-led and member-organized structure. A Mutual Aid organization promotes the protection of communities and the environmental rights. Community-led responses are important to help people within the community who do not have the same access to jobs, housing, food and resources.

Mutual Aid provides invaluable support to vulnerable people overlooked by the state and local governments. The goal is to provide relief and resources and advocate for change and support for everyone in the community.

Fiscal sponsorship is an agreement through which a project or organization without tax-exempt status, but which could qualify for it, partners with an existing tax-exempt organization in order to receive donations and grants. The fiscal sponsor also often serves a mentorship role to support the sponsee and is responsible for receiving and managing any financial contributions that may be re-granted to the sponsee. OlyMAP is fiscally sponsored by Angels for Angels

Outside of homelessness, Shelter in Place is a long-standing emergency preparedness and response philosphy.  

When OlyMAP refers to SiP, we are referring to a regulatory, reality-based, trauma-informed approach to encampments that relies on working with encampment residents to address health, safety, and site management concerns through problem-solving, collaboration, and supported self-governance. 

Our programs and policies are grounded in a Shelter in Place approach. Click here to learn more about what Shelter in Place is and how it works.

There is no universal definition for Harm reduction. However, harm reduction most often refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to minimise negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. Harm reduction is grounded in justice and human rights – it focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support. While Harm Reduction policies and practices are most often talked about or used in relation to substance use, it is a principle and practice that can be applied to a wide array of issues like houselessness and mental health. Really, one can apply the prinicples of harm reduction to any area of life! Harm reduction policies and practices are informed by a strong body of evidence that shows interventions to be practical, feasible, effective, safe– this is why Harm Reduction is considered an Evidence Based Best Practice. Click here to learn more about Harm Reduction. 

Like Harm Reduction, Housing First is an Evidence Based Best Practice that is critical to center in any response to the crisis of houselessness.

Exerpt taken from the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ page on Housing First:

Housing First is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use or mental health related issues. Additionally, Housing First is based on the theory that a person’s choice is valuable in housing selection and supportive service participation, and that exercising that choice is likely to make a client more successful in remaining housed and improving their life.

How is Housing First different from other approaches?

Housing First does not require people experiencing homelessness to address the all of their problems including behavioral health problems, or to graduate through a series of services programs before they can access housing. Housing First does not mandate participation in services either before obtaining housing or in order to retain housing. The Housing First approach views housing as the foundation for life improvement and enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter. Supportive services are offered to support people with housing stability and individual well-being, but participation is not required as services have been found to be more effective when a person chooses to engage. Other approaches do make such requirements in order for a person to obtain and retain housing.

We encourage you to visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ website to learn more about Housing First.

According to the SAMSHA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions, Trauma Informed Approach, or Trauma Informed Care, is a model for organizational change in health, behavioral, health, and other settings that promotes resilience in the organization’s staff, volunteers, and participants.

Key principles of this approach include organizational safety, trustworthiness, transparency, cultural sensitivity, collaboration, and empowerment among and between staff, volunteers, and participants. This approach recognizes the role trauma plays in people’s lives and seeks to shift the clinical perspective from “what’s wrong with you” to “what happened to you” by recognizing and accepting symptoms and difficult behaviors as strategies developed to cope with childhood trauma.

Further, TIA/TIC resists re-traumatization by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.

Click here for more information about Trauma Informed Approaches.

“Houseless” and “unhoused” are alternatives to the word “homeless”, used to describe people who do not live in more traditional dwellings. Many people who live in less traditional dwellings like tents, vehicles, doorways, and makeshift structures, still recognize the cities and locations they live in as their home. So while they may be without a traditional “house” they are not without a home. Many people who are houseless use these alternate terms to describe their situation in order to uphold and embrace the fact that they are just as much a part of their community as anyone else, despite not living in a traditional dwelling. 

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,  lack of adequate and appropriate sociacl services and resources, 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.

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.  Our unhoused community members are individuals who have been failed by society. This includes people struggling with addiction; the criminalization and isolation of people struggling with substance use only perpetuates and excacerbates the harms of substance use.

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 bus lines, 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.

Outside of homelessness, Shelter in Place is a long-standing emergency preparedness and response philosphy.  

When OlyMAP refers to SiP, we are referring to a regulatory, reality-based, trauma-informed approach to encampments that relies on working with encampment residents to address health, safety, and site management concerns through problem-solving, collaboration, and supported self-governance. 

Our programs and policies are grounded in a Shelter in Place approach. Click here to learn more about what Shelter in Place is and how it works.

Garbage is one of the most common and significant community complaints related to encampments and homelessness. The main reason for accumulation of garbage at sites occupied by houseless individuals is lack of access to garbage removal services. Without access to the garbage removal services available to people who live in traditional dwellings, it is very difficult for peopel who are unhoused to properly and legally dispose of waste. OlyMAP has seen drastic improvement related to garbage at encampments where we have been able to provide basic garbage removal support. If we want to solve the problem of accumulated garbage at encampments, we need to ensure that people have access to basic garbage removal services.

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 accommodate the hundreds of people who rely solely on those restrooms for a private place to defecate.

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 they have stayed at in the past. Shelters often also limit the belongings one can have, which restricts those with survival 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. 

59% of people interviewed in the 2020 PIT Count reported that Thurston County is where they call home, while an additional 14% shared that their last permanent address was in a neighboring county like Pierce, Mason, or Lewis. 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 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?

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. OlyMAP supports Evidence Based Best Practices like Harm Reduction and Housing First as the most effective and compassionate approaches to both our housing and substance use crises.

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

Doing outreach is like talking to your neighbor! However, it may not be for everyone. You can still support our work by donating supplies or money, cooking meals to be picked up or dropped off, doing laundry at your home, putting together care packages and wound care/hygiene kits, or simply by spreading the word about the work we do and conversing with your friends and neighbors about housing and houselessness. Please check out our Get Involved page for more details on how you can help!