OPARD shouldn’t manage homeless

Olympia, here is an overlooked but important low hanging fruit to help Olympia’s homeless.

Before 2017 the city had no full time park rangers, now they have 3. The combined pay plus benefits of the park rangers is roughly $210k-$250k. These jobs came when the homeless issue erupted and corresponds to the homeless flooding downtown partly because they were pushed out of the parks.

The parks are no place for homeless camps either in the long term, homelessness should end, but there are a lot of parks in Oly and many acres off the beaten path that provided relative privacy, protection from the elements, plus relative safety security and stability to this group. When they were chased downtown to sleep on sidewalks or more public spaces it was a disaster for their well being and also for downtown businesses and residents.

Another thing that was done at least as early as 2016 involved opening sightlines from trails. OPARD would send maintenance workers systematically down trails to lift branches on trees and remove shrubs for the sole purpose of being able to see at least 30 feet into the forests from the trail. It was explicitly done in the name of “public safety” but was clearly anti homeless. It was based on the myth that homeless people represent a danger or the woods or the unknown. OPARD, based in no data that backed up their fears, spent an amount on confronting an imaginary threat. That undoubtedly helped chase people from tucked away hidden places in parks to downtown. This was likely a big expense.

Then there is the no smoking in parks ordinance which is an anti homeless ordinance. All these rules and changes were coddled in feel good terminology about public safety or health. The facts are the parks simply aren’t the department that should do anything about homeless people, that’s not their skillset and funding police lite park rangers was just a sneaky way of expanding the fear crazed security mania that is coursing through our society.

Some of these fears are warranted and some are not, but the solutions are often ill-considered. Much of the heightened fear in OPARD has to do with the very real issue of the heroine epidemic and surge of sharps found. Needles scare many people and can easily lead to imaginary scenarios of children playing in the parks getting pricked and getting HIV or other diseases. In fact there are trainings about sharps in the park department that offer an abundance of caution. But some of the statistics they pull from on the danger of used needles are from people being pricked at hospitals which is an environment that is probably 10,000 times more likely for a prick to mean infection of disease because hospitals deal with sick people and any accidents with needles are probably within an extremely short time frame.

OPARD’s role is something that the homeless advocates and city has turned a blind eye towards. OPARD staff should have no dealings on homeless issues whatsoever. The money should either go to park improvement or to homeless support in a different city department. I definitely support strongly funding the parks but not when it comes to homeless management.

This is a quarter million a year spent on harming the homeless. I know it’s not the intention of OPARD, and enforcement of park rules is something that is needed but homeless management needs to be not their job in the name of “public safety” or whatever else.

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