A residential care facility that would house up to five state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) clients — including sex offenders being released from the state’s notorious McNeil Island Special Commitment Center — scheduled to open in Tenino next month has sparked extreme backlash from Tenino residents and their representatives.
The facility will be run by Supreme Living LLC, a residential care services company with two existing supportive housing facilities in Olympia.
The Tenino facility will also be considered supportive housing, meaning everything residents need will be provided at the site. It is scheduled to open on a 15-acre property on the outskirts of Tenino with one resident on Feb. 1, according to CEO Angela Rinaldo.
Rumors about the facility circulated online for weeks before Supreme Living LLC, the Olympia-based company behind the new facility, scheduled a community forum for Thursday, Jan. 11, to talk with residents about the facility.
Tensions were high at that meeting, which had many residents leaving with community safety concerns.
Among those with community safety concerns was Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders, who posted Friday on Facebook that his primary concern was Supreme Living’s enforcement plan.
While there are cameras inside and out, the house is not secured, has no fence and there are no plans for armed security to prevent residents from leaving, according to Sanders. Enforcement protocol is to call the state Department of Corrections (DOC), which Supreme Living expects will respond 24/7 to arrest a resident who leaves the property for violating their probation.
While Rinaldo told The Chronicle on Monday she has confirmed DOC is able to respond to any breaches at the Tenino facility, Sanders stated Friday he confirmed that DOC was unaware of the house being installed and didn’t have a 24-hour responder able to detain an fleeing resident.
“It is easy to see why this is not viable. This installation would leave former McNeil Island sex
offenders, self described by the government as the worst of the worst when it comes to sex
offenders, in an unsecured, rural residence with no enforcement for absconding,” wrote Sanders, adding that the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office has no enforcement authority unless the resident commits a crime. “We will be watching this issue closely and working to
provide the best service we can.”
Plans are underway to talk through safety concerns with the sheriff’s office and the facility’s seven immediate neighbors and come up with a plan to notify them should a resident leave the facility, Rinaldo told The Chronicle on Monday.
More than those seven neighbors are concerned about the facility, however. An online petition opposing the facility gained 1,400 signatures by Monday evening and garnered a response from Thurston County’s representatives in the state senate.
“The people of this area have every right to be outraged by what they are learning about this plan,” said Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, in a news release Monday. “The situation is more serious than a classic case of government failing to be transparent and respectful of public concerns, because it involves criminals who have committed truly heinous offenses, and state agencies that aren’t known for running a tight ship.”
35th Legislative District Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, stated, “The public outrage should not surprise us. When a project like this one is foisted on a small community, it tells us state agencies are simply not interested in the burdens they place on neighbors and the surrounding area. State agencies must be held to account for decisions like these. The people of Tenino and southern Thurston County deserve to know how the state plans to protect them.”
The facility was expected to be a topic of discussion at the Thurston County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday.
This story will be updated.