After demands from City Manager Steve Hall, activists began tearing down a makeshift homeless camp Monday afternoon at Olympia’s artesian well near Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street.
The Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace had put up a large tent Friday to house the homeless being displaced by the closure of cold-weather shelters, said Alex Daye, a representative. The action was also a protest against recently adopted city ordinances that ban camping on public property and tighten up restrictions on sitting and lying on sidewalks.
“We are now taking down the structure to avoid police involvement,” he said Monday afternoon as he criticized city officials.
“What they have done is created a refugee population in Olympia.”
Daye said the protesters’ actions aren’t over, “not by a long shot.” Organizers said they’ll be at today’s Olympia City Council meeting.
Hall said the camp is illegal and must come down immediately or the city would remove it, a message he delivered to the camp several times since Saturday. “…It feels like a confrontational, in-your-face response to Olympia and its disappointing given all the work that we’re doing on the homeless front…”
Hall noted that the Olympia City Council recently authorized spending $35,000 on identifying more low-barrier shelter for Olympia. Daye said, “they say that they’re working on it, but there’s absolutely no progress.”
Daye said the artesian well shelter opened Friday because that was when temporary cold-weather shelters closed, such as a men’s shelter that rotates between St. Michael and Sacred Heart Catholic churches. He said people were displaced with nowhere to go.
He said 22 people slept at the well Sunday night. The group also installed a portable toilet that will be open 24 hours a day.
“Really, we need a low-barrier shelter that’s open all the time, that doesn’t turn people away,” Daye said.
The Salvation Army has also operated a cold-weather shelter, but only when the temperature drops to 38 degrees or below. It operates another shelter for single adults, but only if strict rules are followed such as curfews and devoting most income to a savings plan, which some activists criticize. Salvation Army representatives defend the program, saying it has been effective at getting homeless people into housing.
Before the camp was dismantled, Daye vowed that it would remain until a low-barrier shelter can open to house the homeless.
Shane Dillingham, 19, said he stayed all three nights at the camp. Before then, he stayed in a homeless camp in the woods, he said.
“It’s been a little cold, I’ll admit it,” he said, “but not quite as cold as just sleeping out in the open with a blanket or two.”
Danny Kadden, executive director of Interfaith Works, a consortium of faith communities that runs cold-weather shelters, said talks continue to find more low-barrier shelter. He noted that the city of Olympia and the Thurston County Board of Commissioners will hold a joint study session today on homeless issues. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in room 207 of City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave. E.
The hang-up is finding a location can be used as a shelter, Kadden said, with the right amenities such as bathrooms.
“My sense of it is its not so much of a resource issue,” he said. “It’s a location issue.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 email@example.com @MattBatcheldor