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'The City Cannot Do This Alone': Olympia Turns To Church For Homelessness Funding

"construction continues on the Olympia City Hall" by Jason Taellious is licensed under CC by 2.0
Olympia City Hall

Stemming a tide of homelessness on the West Coast is hard enough for major cities like Seattle, where coffers are full of tax revenue from technology companies and generous levies.

When you're running a smaller city like Olympia, where the budget is about one-fortieth the size of Seattle's, the task can be even harder. 

"It's overwhelming and challenging," said Keith Stahley, who leads Olympia's Planning and Development Department. "It can be even a bit frustrating at times. We always wish we had more resources and capacity to do more." 

Olympia's leaders are turning to a church for help funding the city's efforts to house people. It's the city's first formal partnership with a religious group. 

Evergreen Christian Community, based in Olympia, has agreed to contribute $100,000 a year for three years to the city's coffers. 

Olympia officials plan to use that money to hire a "homeless response coordinator" to draft and help execute a plan to combat homelessness in the city of 46,000 people. 

"Homelessness has created an all-hands-on-deck moment for our community," Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby said in a statement. "The city cannot do this alone. It will take partners and partnerships to meet the challenges we face." 

Stahley said city officials hope to interview candidates in March and have a coordinator in place by May.

Evergreen Christian Community's lead pastor, Jim Ladd, said in a statement that Christians are called "to lead the way in generosity, compassion, and kindness." 

"We believe there are innovative win-win approaches that will serve our most vulnerable citizens and positively impact ongoing economic development in the city," he added.

Olympia voters approved a sales tax increase on Feb. 13 that city officials estimate will raise more than $2 million a year to fight homelessness.

Stahley said the homeless response coordinator will help manage that effort, which is heavily focused on giving grants to developers of "permanent supportive housing," or housing with built-in services for people facing addiction, mental illness, or physical disabilities. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.