An example of listening and interacting, and for my proclivity for working through difficult conversations to reach collaborative solutions, is my work with the homeless encampment at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. The encampment appeared naturally in a dense residential neighborhood, fueled by the pandemic, a lack of affordable housing, the state eviction moratorium, the state supreme court’s legalization of drugs, and new legislation severely curtailing police powers. There was no one with authority over the encampment. It was a recipe for disaster and there was a lot of blame thrown around.
I convened a weekly set of meetings with neighbors, the Jefferson County Fair Association, social service providers, law enforcement, legal and regulatory representatives from both city and county (and eventually the encampment population itself) and started walking through the problems. I fought for support for this population because of the unplanned use of the fairgrounds, the impacts to the surrounding neighborhood, and with compassion for the population because housing first is a solid investment.
Houselessness in society is inextricably linked with the behavioral health crisis we are also trying to mitigate. Reducing the number of emergencies this population experiences and causes builds slack into our social safety net. OlyCAP is now running Caswell-Brown Village and building capacity for more campers in the outdoor shelter, with financial back from the county's ARPA relief dollar allotment. We removed an encampment with real health, safety and nuisance impacts from our fairgrounds, improved encampment behavior and outcomes, and significantly reduced the number of law enforcement encounters and 911 calls.