Campers protest Olympia City Council’s treatment of homeless people
The Washington State Patrol arrested seven people at a makeshift homeless shelter in downtown Olympia March 5, even as the Olympia City Council and the Thurston County Board of Commissioners were meeting inside Olympia City Hall to discuss services for homeless people.
Those arrested were demonstrating against what they see as Olympia’s failure to address the needs of homeless people.
The Olympia City Council banned camping or sleeping on city-owned property in January. The ban came in response to 20 homeless young adults who, when temperatures dropped, began sleeping on sidewalk space covered by an overhang of the new City Hall. City Manager Steve Hall said their presence made city employees feel unsafe and was a public health problem.
The camping ban took effect Feb. 8. In passing it, Olympia City Council members said they were committed to finding new solutions to serve the homeless community, many of whom live in greenbelts.
(“Olympia bans camping and sitting on city property,” RC, Jan. 16, 2013)
At the urging of Councilmember Jim Cooper, who voted against the camping ban, the city council scheduled the March 5
meeting with the Thurston County Board of Commissioners. City of Olympia spokesperson Cathie Butler said the county has allocated $1 million for homeless services, which could be used to create shelter downtown.
The city allocated $35,000 to identify a place for a homeless shelter in Olympia, seed money that could draw additional funds from Thurston County. Earlier, the city provided $42,000 to Community Youth Services for a pilot shelter a block away from Olympia City Hall.
But homeless people and their allies said the city wasn’t moving fast enough. As a protest, members of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace set up a white tent, labeled “homeless shelter.”
On March 1, the group erected the tent on a public utilities site. On March 4, seeking to avoid a confrontation with police, they moved to property owned by the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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