Last month I said that I’d talk to you about the Providence Community Care Center. The CCC, as it’s known, is a vital part of SideWalk’s mission to end homelessness. I know that its opening has created some community concerns, so I’d like to take some time to talk with you about the history and the functions of the CCC.
In September 2017, after 3 years of planning, the CCC opened up as a joint operation between Providence St. Peter’s Foundation, Interfaith Works, SideWalk, and many other organizations. We planned it as an interdisciplinary center that coordinated care for the most vulnerable people on the streets. In these aspects, the CCC has been incredibly successful, giving SideWalk participants an easier location to find us and allowing SideWalk volunteers the ability to quickly connect our participants to behavioral health and healthcare services.
Recently, Elizabeth, a SideWalk intern, met with a participant with an open wound. She saw how much pain the participant was in, and worried that it would get infected and cause further injury. Before, when we worked out of SideWalk House, all she would be able to do was provide an address and hope that the participant would find their way. Because they were at the CCC, she walked the participant across the hall to see someone with the Olympia Free Clinic to get their wound dressed and treated immediately. This is one of many examples of our volunteers being able to quickly connect our participants to other vital services.
The CCC is a young project and has had growing pains. Many people have expressed discomfort with neighborhood impacts from the CCC. We’ve seen them too, which is why we have taken important steps with our partners and the City of Olympia.
A large volume of people visit the CCC every day for essential services as well as to meet with SideWalk volunteers to discuss how to escape the streets. Providence estimates that currently over 200 people visit the CCC every day. The building feels overcrowded because it is. When planning the design of the CCC, all of our partners planned with the expectation that the Warming Center (previously operated by Interfaith Works in the winter of 2016-2017) would be open as well. This warming center would the be the primary destination for people experiencing homelessness to simply hang out; the CCC could focus on offering services and other positive social activities.
Unfortunately, cuts to local government funding meant that the Warming Center did not open for the winter of 2017-2018. Therefore, the CCC was forced to fill a role that it was not intended for, that of a day center for people on the streets to find a place to rest during the day. Over the winter of 2017-2018, the CCC saw more people than it was ever intended to fill, forcing Interfaith Works to skip planned activities to focus on crowd management. As the seasons shifted into the summer, the CCC saw a slowdown in the number of people visiting every day.
In its recent resolution regarding Immediate Action Items to Address Homelessness, the Olympia City Council directed City staff to work to open a day center. We applaud this effort and estimate that, when the proposed day center opens, visits to the CCC will remain at its current levels rather than return to its winter levels.
We know that there have been serious concerns about crime and drug use. Given the vulnerable nature of the street community we serve, we know that there will be people who prey on them. That’s why Providence stepped up security around the building. Providence has hired private security to oversee the building after hours, and the City of Olympia has stepped up patrolling its parking lots including the State and Washington lot next to the CCC. Since the Spring of this year, the CCC partnership also engaged with the Olympia Police Department to do targeted criminal enforcement around the CCC, protecting our most vulnerable on the streets from those who would take advantage of them. This has already resulted in a dramatic improvement in the immediate neighborhood. We look forward to continuing to work with the Downtown Ambassadors, the Olympia Clean Team, and the Olympia Police Department to keep these positive results going.
The CCC provides critical services for our neighbors in Thurston County. While some still push the idea that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ the numbers bear out the opposite. Since 2002, the annual Point In Time Count shows that the vast majority of people on the streets are from Thurston County. Just as it is hard for people off the streets to give up their community and their social networks, people on the streets stay here, where they know and are known. We are proud of our work to serve our most vulnerable neighbors.
We’re taking other steps to improve the conditions at the CCC. We’ll be working with Interfaith Works to recruit more hospitality volunteers for the CCC, people who chat with our guests while they wait to be seen for services. We’ll also support Interfaith Works in introducing group functions, such as community art sessions, classes, and other positive activities. These expressions of love, welcome, and support will help to calm the chaotic nature of the CCC.
We’re looking forward to analyzing data that will prove that the CCC is providing the positive outcomes in our guests’ lives that we see everyday. Right now, due to legal provisions restricting protected health information, it is difficult to analyze the effects of having many services under one roof. We’re pretty sure, based on our daily experiences at the CCC, that coordinated care results both in better health and better results in housing. But collecting this data will take time and negotiation to ensure that we respect the rights of CCC guests.
We’re proud that others have seen the turnaround at the CCC. Recently, I spoke with a local business owner, who told me that things were looking “10,000 times better” at the CCC. Also, in its resolution calling for Immediate Action Items To Address Homelessness, the Olympia City Council “affirm[ed] and support[ed] the Providence Community Care Center and its partnering providers in downtown Olympia as critical contributors of comprehensive clinical and dignity services for street dependent and vulnerable community members.”
As part of our work to end homelessness in Thurston County, we know that the CCC is one of many vital parts to accomplish that mission. While like all new projects it’s had growing pains, every day SideWalk volunteers and our partners at the CCC serve people on the streets with warmth and grace. Thank you for your support for the CCC.