Helping hundreds of homeless each day in downtown Olympia

December 12, 2017


Those who are homeless often struggle tremendously to find resources to basic necessities, such as food, shelter and health care. Many community organizations offer various resources as stand-alone programs – for example, a shelter on one street, a food bank on another corner of town, free mobile medical services on a specific day, and so on. But for vulnerable individuals with mental health or substance abuse challenges, navigating a maze of free community resources can be an overwhelming barrier—so challenging that it can lead them instead to emergency centers, law enforcement and jails. And that’s a costly outcome for everyone in our communities, both from an emotional and financial perspective.

Providence Health & Services in Southwest Washington wants to break that cycle and help those who are homeless.

Members of the Providence St. Peter Foundation Board started the ball rolling toward a community care center in 2014 in conjunction with the results of a community health needs assessment.

The Foundation began raising needed funds, while Providence caregivers in Olympia joined with various other existing nonprofit organizations to begin planning the Providence Community Care Center (PCCC), a central hub for people who are homeless to gain access to mental health, substance abuse, housing and primary care services—all under one roof, in a compassionate and safe environment.

“We’ve seen so many people come through the emergency department who were homeless and in need of an inpatient mental health bed or inpatient substance abuse treatment. We would give them referrals of where to go, make sure they weren’t in crisis and send them back out to access that system on their own,” said Michelle James, chief nursing officer for Providence in Southwest Washington. “Many don’t and just simply give up. We knew we needed to do something different, so we created this center.”

James said they knew the center would be successful because “there were so many great community partners already doing this work, just independently.”

“Having them all together, under one roof, makes a big difference,” she said. “It’s a one-stop shop and our homeless population no longer needs to trek from one end of town to the other for basic services.”

Center designed to meet the needs of homeless

The Providence Community Care Center in Olympia opened mid-September There’s been a constant flow of people ever since. There are an average of 200 guests per day and Providence behavioral health caregivers conduct an average of 90 consults each week.

The PCCC checks an average of 26 bags per day into a secure area, which allows people to leave their belongings in a safe place, something that lacked in the past and was a barrier to them accessing services. Guests are allowed dignity services such as laundry and showers.

Already the center’s services have begun to expand and those involved are working on partnerships with other nonprofits to offer additional services, such as employment counseling. Many guests are connected to housing consults with SideWalk, while others seek free medical services for the Olympia Free Clinic. About a dozen community partners provide services throughout each week. At that same time, the number of patients seen in the Crises Services Department at Providence St. Peter Hospital Emergency Department has decreased.

Providence Health & Services invests to create a thriving community

Providence Health & Services in Southwest Washington began partnering with the City of Olympia, Capital Medical Center and many other community partners more than three years ago, as a direct response to Providence’s community health needs assessment, which identified patients with mental/behavioral health issues as one of the greatest unmet needs in the region.

Since then, Providence has partnered with the Providence St. Peter Foundation to provide $2.4 million in total to this cause. The 2015 Providence Christmas Forest Fund-a-Need was dedicated to the formation of the PCCC. This video at the event helped the cause set a record for donations. In addition, Capital Medical Center contributed $500,000 and the City of Olympia provided a $200,000 community development block grant.

The center is meant to be a catalyst for change—by providing the essential components of healthy living, the hope is that it can lead to educational, economic and job opportunities. Visit the Providence Community Care Center website to learn more about the services offered, including the complete list of community partners.