New homeless tent city on hold after Olympia business owners say city violated law

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The battle over business owners' rights and homeless camps is spilling into the courtroom in the South Sound.

For now, a Thurston County judge issued a temporary restraining order, effectively stopping more people from moving into Olympia’s first "mitigation site" homeless tent city at Olympia Avenue and Franklin Street.

The complaint accuses the city of exacerbating the homeless problem by trying to set up the sanctioned camp site.

There are four business owners who filed the complaint. Court records show the business owners remained anonymous, claiming they worry they could be targeted if their identities were revealed.

But for some of the homeless people who were able to get into the camp site before intake was shut down, the location feels safer than others.

“This is something we at the Gospel Mission really wanted to do, and I was so thankful the city decided to step up,” said Steven Smith, who works as a site host at the tent city location. “I wish everybody would understand what this means to these people who are trying to change their lives, because that’s what we’re here to do.”

While there’s still plenty of room for more people at the site, according to Smith, a court order is preventing anyone else from moving in.

“We’ve got some couples in here, and the rest are single individual tents,” he said.

In the past several months, city officials told Q13 News the homeless population in Olympia has grown ten fold.

The mitigation site was supposed to house about 160 homeless people and provide some basic services, but now everything is on hold.

“Right now we’re trying to just keep a damper on people coming in throughout the night, they get stopped after a certain point,” said Smith.

Four business owners who operate within 500 feet of the camp filed suit.

Court records reveal the complainants claim the city didn’t follow its own laws when this site opened, laws like not giving proper notice or allowing public input.

The business owners claim the city "created a public nuisance by allowing, and even encouraging, the homeless camps that have proliferated."

They also told the judge they are now "apprehensive for their own personal safety."

If the emergency camp is closed by court order, city officials say they have no effective way to manage homeless people.

The city has spent $75,000 opening the camp. A hearing is set for later this month.

Meanwhile, the hosts say they know the demand to move in here is an indication of the need for managed homeless camps.

“If and when we can get it back up and running according to the judge’s ruling, we have list of people and they would go first,” said Smith.

The restraining order is in effect until later this month.

Q13 News asked city officials for comment about any future steps, but those messages were not immediately returned.