The merits of the Family Support Center’s proposal to use the abandoned Smith Building as shelter for homeless families with children were strong enough for Olympia City Council to grant conceptual approval this week.
It was the right decision. The next step is to work out the details of the agreement, which is really the crux of the matter.
Does the city lease the building, taking on financial responsibility for repairs and maintenance, but retaining the option to sell the building someday when commercial real estate values recover?
Or, does it sell the building for $1 now, avoiding any additional maintenance expense, but writing a proviso into the agreement that the building reverts to city ownership on some future date, or if the Family Support Center is no longer using it as a family shelter?
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Those are serious questions that a city with a $2.4 million budget deficit next year must answer before completing this deal.
In moving forward, however, the city is staying focused on the greater humanitarian issue it is addressing: family homelessness, which is a serious problem in this community.
Many of the women and children who are homeless and would be sheltered at the Smith Building have experienced some form of domestic violence. Due to the increasing number of homeless families as a result of domestic violence, the support center provides DV advocate services just for this purpose.
The domestic violence shelter at SafePlace is often full and sometimes overflowing. That means women and children are sometimes referred to the support center in a time of great need.
The Family Support Center is one of the alternatives for those women in crisis with nowhere else to go. It provides emergency shelter now on a smaller scale.
Acquiring the Smith Building would enable them to expand to 32 emergency beds, broken up into seven family suites, and an additional 28 transitional housing beds, broken up into six family suites.
Those actively involved with domestic violence and homelessness envision the Smith Building as the first step to creating a continuum of housing options for DV victims and their children.
SafePlace could focus on victims in crisis who need secure and confidential housing for safety reasons. Victims who don’t need that kind of security could be diverted to the housing proposed for the Smith Building. And the Family Support Center could focus on transitioning these families to permanent housing.
There are seeds for a much larger scale of community focus and cooperation being planted here that could result in significant cost savings to government jurisdictions and the community. There is no easy way to estimate the amount of public resources these families would consume without the Smith Building proposal as an option.
The City of Olympia already spends money to address homelessness, as do other cities and the county. It’s not uncommon for a city to award grants for projects that address a pressing need.
Donating a building does not differ much from giving a monetary grant. It could be argued that providing a building for a homeless project is even more valuable than granting money.
Olympia may not yet have all of this figured out, but it appears to be moving in the right direction.