Police cleared out a downtown Olympia, Washington hotel after a homeless activist group allegedly “forcibly occupied” the establishment Sunday to shelter unhoused people, the City of Olympia said in a statement late Sunday night.
At least seven people were taken into custody, according to CNN affiliate KIRO, which said some Red Lion Hotel employees were trapped in the hotel’s basement for more than six hours. According to the city’s statement, guests in about 40 rooms sheltered in place while police cleared the hotel.
People inside the hotel began calling 911 around 11 a.m. local time (2 p.m. ET) Sunday, to report “a group was attempting to forcibly take over the hotel,” the city said. Police also received reports hotel employees felt “under threat from the group and that an employee was allegedly assaulted,” the city said.
Olympia Police Lt. Paul Lower told CNN affiliate KOMO News one of the people who entered the hotel was wielding a hatchet, adding that others reportedly carried batons and knives. According to police estimates, there were about 45 members of the group inside and outside the hotel, the city said.
The group in question, Oly Housing Now (OHN), “is a coalition of Olympia residents working to end homelessness,” and supports “direct action” to accomplish its goals, according to a news release on the group’s recently created Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The OHN news release indicated members wanted to use the hotel for “emergency pandemic housing,” saying, “It’s too cold for people to be sleeping on the streets – especially during a pandemic.”
Emma Deitz, an organizer for Oly Housing Now, told The Olympian that the group, “purchased 17 hotel rooms for homeless people from nearby encampments and plan to stay until the county commits funds for permanent housing,” the newspaper reported earlier in the day.
In its own statement, the city said a Crisis Response Unit was connecting the unhoused individuals to services, adding they would not be allowed to remain at the hotel.
OHN called on both the city and county to do more to help the homeless population, including applying for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to shelter “people who are 65+ or have pre-existing health conditions that put them at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications – a descriptor that applies to many people who are unhoused,” the Olympian reported.
The homelessness coordinator for Thurston County, Keylee Marineau, told The Olympian the county is exploring federal funding and said, “We’re actively pursuing avenues to understand how the homeless-specific funds for FEMA work.”
“Making sure our unhoused residents have access to safe and affordable housing has been Olympia’s priority for more than a decade,” Mayor Cheryl Selby said in a statement. “Olympia has led on responding to homelessness, on coordinating shelter and other basic needs. The tactics used today by Oly Housing Now are unproductive and won’t make the mission more attainable.”