Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse 2017

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Above: Olympians found spots throughout the city to view the solar eclipse on Monday. When viewing the eclipse at Madison Scenic Park in Olympia’s eastside neighborhood, this little guy took no chances. 

As the eclipse reached totality, the light turned sunset colored, the air became cool, and birds chirped like it was twilight. Neighbors greeted each other and chatted. 

We all learned just a little bit more about astrophysics while looking through homemade viewers made from cereal and cracker boxes.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pet Parade 2017

Above: Russell Soderquist, 3, of Olympia, gets a little help with his ice cream from his pug, Kirby, 9. The Soderquist family won the prize for best family entry, and earned a sweet bicycle that will take Russell a few years to grow into. They won the contest with Russell and Kirby sitting in their “Bathing Beauties” wagon, which was decorated like a shower, complete with shower head and clear curtain.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“Beauties and Beasts” was the theme of the 88th annual Pet Parade as goats, horses, bunnies, cats and dogs, King Kong, and even Sasquatch strolled through downtown Olympia on Saturday morning

All ended up in Sylvester Park with participation ribbons and ice cream for kids 16 years of age and under.

The event was sponsored by The Olympian newspaper and a wide range of local businesses. Donated prizes and gift certificates were awarded for a variety of categories.

Above:  This sweetheart of a Beast held onto his rose throughout the whole parade.

Above: Rusty, 3, an Australian Shepherd/English Springer mix, was a happy pollinator for the day as his owner, Malla Hayak, of Shelton, gives him a treat. Hayak's mother, Barbara, brought Darla, her four year old German Shepherd, and won $20 for their pirate costumes in the large dog category. “This was so much fun! I’m going to bring my nieces and nephews next year!” said Hayak, who won a $25 gift certificate. This was her first Pet Parade.

Above: Dressed like a skunk, Porter, 4, takes the pug breed to a whole new level.

Above: This family went all out with their float of the Capitol Building, King Kong, and a dog dressed as Faye Raye.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sick Tricks, Kicks, and the Footbag Family

Above: Taking a break during warm ups, footbagger Larry Workman, left, of North Bend, Oregon, compliments Taishi Ishida of Japan on his routine earlier in the week at the 38th Annual World Footbag Championships held in Portland, Oregon last week. Workman's daughter has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and recently underwent a stem cell transplant. She is currently facing serious complications.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“It's like You Tube, only he's here!” exclaimed the announcer when he introduced Nick ‘Mr. Spaghetti’ Landes, who demonstrated sick tricks and kicks at the 38th Annual World Footbag Championships held in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center last week.

If you didn’t know there was such a thing, you’re not alone, but maybe you’ve gathered in a circle with a group of friends on your college campus or at a local park, kicking a little beanbag around, trying to keep it up in the air as long as possible without using your hands. Maybe you even thought you were pretty good at it.

Above: A group of friends play Hacky Sack at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the 1980s. Photo by Janine Thome (Gates)/Little Hollywood Photography

While there has been footbag use documented since ancient times, the little bag as we know it today was created in Oregon City, Oregon by two friends, Mike Marshall and John Stalberger, in 1972.

Marshall was kicking around a homemade beanbag while Stalberger was recovering from knee surgery. Stalberger wanted a fun way to exercise his knee. They improved their little bag, and…the rest is history. 

The name, patented and marketed under the brand Hacky Sack, came from their original term for the game, “Hack-the-Sack.” Stalberger says they used to say, Let's go hack-the-sack, when they wanted to play.

When Marshall died three years later of a heart attack at the age of 28, Stalberger started The National Hacky Sack Association and began organizing workshops to teach footbag in schools.

Stalberger later sold the rights for the Hacky Sack footbag and now, millions play the sport around the world.

There’s a World-Wide Footbag Foundation, an International Footbag Players’ Association (IFPA), and even a Footbag Hall of Fame Historical Society.

Now a Vancouver, Washington based consultant and coach for small companies and real estate agent, Stalberger stays involved with the sport and continues to honor his friend each year by awarding a deserving person the Mike Marshall Footbag trophy. 

This year, the trophy went to World Footbag Championship event director Ethan “Red” Husted.

Above: John Stalberger gives an honorary award every year at the World Championship tournament in memory of his friend Mike Marshall. 

Above: The Open Doubles Net Semi Finals at the World Footbag Championships in Portland on Saturday. In blue,Wiktor Debski of Poland and Luc Legeau of Canada play against Walt Houston and Ben Alston of Memphis Footworks from Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis Footworks won, making it to the finals for the first time.

The World Footbag Championships have been hosted by 12 different countries in the past 17 years, and was last held in Portland in 1997.

Last week, 135 athletes competed from several countries around the world in various events including routines for singles, doubles, women’s, freestyle, intermediate, and open categories.

The enthusiasm and camaraderie is infectious as the family friendly crowd responds to the athlete’s moves, choreographed to music. Judges score the performance based on artistic merit and technical skills. If the footbag gets dropped to the floor, the crowd is supportive and the routine continues.

Above: Pawel Nowak of Poland, center, won first place, with seven time world footbag champion Vasek Klouda of the Czech Republic, right, coming in second, and Taishi Ishida, left, coming in third for the Open Singles Routine at the 38th World Footbag Championships in Portland last week.

But all the fun and competition becomes secondary when life is kicking you in the gut.

Wearing an Oregon Ducks t-shirt, Larry Workman, of North Bend, Oregon, was taking a break from practicing his moves when he was randomly approached by Little Hollywood to answer a few questions about the sport.

Workman graciously introduced himself, and said he has been playing footbag for eight years, but did not perform well earlier in the week because his mind was elsewhere.

His 21 year old daughter, Mayleigh, has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and recently underwent a stem cell transplant. She is currently on a ventilator at a Portland area hospital in very serious condition. 

It has been a difficult journey.

The footbag championships coincided with his daughter's worsening condition, but provided Larry and his wife, Camille, brief respite. To help spread the word about blood cancers, the Workman's staffed an information table for Be the Match, a nonprofit marrow donor registry.

Be the Match targets healthy potential donors between the ages of 18-44, and they were successful in signing up four potential donors in Mayleigh’s honor.

Their feelings were raw, but they wanted to share their story with their footbag family.

A year ago, after experiencing symptoms she and her family didn’t understand for three months, Mayleigh was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She received a stem cell transplant 19 days ago, but is now facing serious complications.

The Workman's have learned a lot of medical jargon in a short amount of time, and have been writing a blog to provide updates on Mayleigh's condition and share their knowledge with family and friends.

“We really need her white counts to come in so her body can begin healing. Today they doubled her fillgrastim shots that stimulate the stem cells. She's been getting this since day 7 and so far her counts haven't budged. It was her first double dose so hopefully this will help to kick start those cells to go to work. They have also found a virus present that for most of us would not be an issue but because she's neutropenic, they will need to keep an eye on it closely.

“We had a huge support system in my mom and my footbag family but my mom had to return home and the footbaggers have all went their separate ways. We are beyond stressed and our minds keep wandering but mostly we want to get that call that her counts are coming in and for that we need a miracle,” the Workman's wrote on Monday.

Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. About 14,000 patients are in need of a transplant nationwide. Seventy percent of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family.

Stalberger is emotional about the footbag family.

“It’s all very humbling to me. It’s fantastic. Mike was a free spirited person, and we didn’t know where it would go all those years ago…. I didn’t know anything, and after he died, I didn’t know who to trust…. I’m glad to still be a part of it all. You know, the footbag community is about family.

“….As for Mayleigh, we’re just lifting the family up in prayer and sending them positive energy and love. That’s the one word to describe what this is all about: love.”

Above: Paloma Pujol Mayo of Spain performed a routine to a musical medley which included Jailrock Rock by Elvis Presley. She won first place in the women’s individual routine.

Editor's Note, August 16: Little Hollywood has been informed that Mayleigh passed away the afternoon of August 15. Please see the note in the comment section from her family.

For more information about Be the Match and to receive a swab kit in the mail, go to

When you join the Be the Match registry, it means you are helping to save a life. You complete a confidential registration and consent form and perform a cheek swab. No blood is drawn. Your cheek swab is tested for your tissue type to determine if you are a possible match for a patient in need. If you are called as a potential match, you must be committed to donate to any patient in need, and ready to follow through with further requirements. Adding more members with diverse ethnic backgrounds to the registry increases the variety of tissue types available, helping more patients find the match they need. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Seniors Denied Safe Access to Trail System

Above: Residents of The Firs, an independent retirement facility on Lilly Road in Olympia, have quietly worked for over two years to gain safe access from the edge of the facility’s property to the Chehalis Western trail system. Many of the residents use canes, walkers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters. Negotiations between the City of Olympia and property owners of the facility have stalled.

City Neglected to Obtain Right of Way, Property Owner Denies City Access

Ensign Road Neighborhood Pathway Project Received $162,000

Residents May Have Title II American Disabilities Act Case

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood
A Little Hollywood Land Use Investigation

Residents of The Firs, an independent retirement living facility for seniors at 426 Lilly Road in Olympia, want improved access to a public trail that is so close and yet so far.

For over two years, they have patiently worked with their property management representatives, MBK Senior Living, and the City of Olympia to create safe access to the Chehalis Western trail system trail.

The hazardous connection is from the end of the property’s sidewalk at the end of Ensign Road to a steep, 65 foot dirt path that drops several inches, then dips down into the middle of a drainage ditch, and rises again to meet the trail. Another potential access point is also difficult and blocked by a parking lot curb and a rough lawn.

The Chehalis Western trail system offers 56 miles of paved, uninterrupted trails, allowing access to regional businesses, homes, work, and recreational activities.

On a regular basis, dozens of able-bodied staff and residents, including bicyclists, access the area near The Firs to reach medical offices, the Memorial Clinic, assisted living facilities, St. Peter Hospital, Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health), and a nearby apartment complex.

Many seniors who are disabled cannot negotiate the drop from the sidewalk to the dirt path, like Manuel Gutierrez, who is an amputee and uses a motorized wheelchair. He lives in a nearby apartment complex and drives to the edge of the sidewalk to watch others access the trail.

Brave motorized scooter riders access the trail either by driving to the next accessible entry point near Kaiser Permanente to the north, about one fourth of a mile away, or to an asphalt pathway to the south near an apartment complex, the Olympia Crest Apartments, also about one fourth of a mile away.

The intersection of Lilly Road and Martin Way is the second busiest intersection in Thurston County.

Above: As another resident of The Firs drives by on his motorized scooter, Ken Lewis, a resident of The Firs, stands in the middle of the dirt path that leads from a sidewalk with a several inch drop off to the Chehalis Western trail.

Above: City of Olympia councilmember Clark Gilman, center, met with Sherman Beverly, left, and Freeman Stickney, right, and about 20 other residents of The Firs in June to discuss their request for safe access to the Chehalis Western Trail. 

Beverly, a former resident council president at The Firs, is a professor emeritus of Northeastern Illinois University, and has recently published a book. In June, he shared with Gilman that he is nearing his 90th birthday and encounters difficulty accessing the trail.

Residents Petition City for Access

The city approved $162,000 for the Ensign Road neighborhood pathway in 2016 and has been supportive of the residents’ request for access. 

The city prepared to begin work on the project this summer, however, the property owner, Olympia Propco, LLC, denied the city right-of-way, thus blocking the project.

Clark Gilman was chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory committee when he first heard about the issue. He is now a council member. 

Gilman and Little Hollywood were recently invited to The Firs to take a look at the steep dirt path and hear the concerns of about 20 residents gathered to discuss the issue. 

Freeman Stickney, a former resident council president at The Firs, spent his career in the Air Force and the National Weather Service.

He says a significant number of the 130 residents at The Firs, including more than half a dozen who use power chairs, would like to use the trail for exercise and enjoyment.

In September of 2015, Stickney, along with residents Sherman Beverly, Jr., and Ken Lewis, presented a petition to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, signed by 85 residents asking the Olympia City Council to include their request for access in its neighborhood pathways program to extend the sidewalk in the 2016 budget.

The petition was acknowledged, and forwarded to the city council for their consideration.

“A few of the residents with power chairs have mentioned to me that they would use the Chehalis Western trail to reach businesses on Martin Way and the South Sound Shopping Center. The old railroad grade is level, and much easier and safer to traverse than Lilly Road,” said Stickney.

“The Firs highlights access to the trail in their advertisements. They have even organized trail walks, weather permitting – for those able bodied!” he added.

Gilman said that while it appears the property owner thinks that space is valuable for possible expansion, he doubted that the city would approve one. The drainage ditch causing the dip in the trail is actually a stormwater retention pond, and a wetland the size of about 10 to 15 acres is located directly adjacent the trail. 

During winter months, at least 12 inches of water is in the ditch, making access to the trail difficult for everyone.

“I think it would be good public relations for MBK Senior Living and The Firs to allow the city access. It’s not taking away anything from them. We could provide a nice bench and plaque on it, letting everyone know that they allowed this to happen. Let’s get this done, especially before it starts raining again,” added resident Mike Flothe.

City Realizes Its Own Oversight to Obtain Right of Way

Records indicate that the city has worked hard for two years, making numerous attempts to contact the appropriate representative for Olympia Propco, LLC, which is based in California, and proactively negotiate for the area.

Through the city’s Site Plan Review Committee, city staff reviewed the area and worked out the requirements needed for approval of the trail development and submitted its pathway design to the property owner.

The city is asking Olympia Propco, LLC to dedicate a 60 foot right-of-way for Ensign Road, as required by a development condition of approval that was apparently never completed, and dedicating roughly 18 feet by 50 feet of pathway right-of-way.

The facility was built in 1984.

The city realized its oversight when residents of The Firs made their petition for access. It has offered the owner a relatively small, but undetermined potential land tax reduction and offered to pay Olympia Propco, LLC a nominal fee of $10,000 for 13,897 square feet to expedite the process.

In 2015, the onsite executive director of The Firs’ property management company, MBK Senior Living, wrote a letter to the city supporting its residents, saying, “An ADA compliant trail access would be greatly appreciated and welcomed to our neighborhood and The Firs.”

Residents of The Firs believe they have a strong case with regard to Title II of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers state and local government activities.

Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities such as public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings.

Lack of access to the trail for those with disabilities covers several of those categories.

A MBK Senior Living representative based in California, Kevin Hanlon, wrote an April 7, 2017 email to city surveyor Ladd Cluff, seemingly extinguishing all hope for the seniors, disabled, and others members of the public from being able to safely access the trail.

“Being a senior community, we are extra cautious and sensitive to anything that could possibly make our property less secure. We’re very concerned a new access trail point might bring in greater activity and create a potentially less safe area. It is our belief at this time, that an access point in this area would not be prudent,” wrote Hanlon.

Cluff responded that that the response was very disappointing.

“The pathway would have a significant positive impact to our community. We will inform the public stakeholders that the pathway project is unable to move forward. Our message will be that the property owners are not willing to grant the public the necessary right-of-way for the pathway. We hope your position changes in the future,” wrote Cluff.

Max Rheinhardt, the new executive director for The Firs, recently addressed residents about the issue and on two occasions, suggested in meetings that the property owner may fence off the area in question for liability reasons.

He had little to say in a brief interview with Little Hollywood, except to say that some residents do not understand the situation.

Ken Lewis, 85, a retired manager of the hospital licensing program under the state department of health, has spearheaded effort for safe access for the past two years.

Lewis is active and regularly walks and bikes the Chehalis Western Trail. His wife is not able to access the trail, and the couple recently decided to move from The Firs to another retirement community that has access to trails.

“Fencing off the area would be horrible, and the worst possible, unintended consequence of our efforts for safe access. I even wrote Olympia Propco, LLC in June about my decision, and I never received a communication back. We gave The Firs notice that we will vacate our apartment with the lack of trail access as the primary reason. They need to know there will be consequences for their failure to resolve this issue,” said Lewis.

Above: Ken Lewis, center, speaks to Councilmember Clark Gilman and residents of The Firs at a meeting in June about the the proposed pathway on Ensign Road.

Ensign Neighborhood Pathway Application Funded

The residents of The Firs are not alone in their desire for access to the trail.

The nearby Olympia Transitional Care and Rehabilitation skilled nursing care facility has over 100 residents and over 130 employees. The facility shares a parking lot with The Firs and the trail is frequently used by its staff and residents throughout the year. 

Its administrator, Ben Jensen, wrote a letter to the city in 2015 in support of The Firs’ resident request for safe access to the trail from Ensign Road.

Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to the residents of The Firs at the time, a neighborhood pathway application to the city had been independently written and submitted in mid-2015 by Keith Edgerton, on behalf of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association.

Edgerton works across the street from The Firs as Providence St. Peter Hospital’s Sustainability Coordinator.

St. Peter Hospital is the largest private employer in Thurston County and has an active commute trip reduction program.

“Creating a safe trail connection would greatly improve all neighborhood business and St. Peter Hospital's ability to encourage staff to use alternate forms of transportation in order to reduce congestion in this area. This pathway would encourage residents (including the elderly) to access the trail for health and wellness benefits,” wrote Edgerton in his application.

“Whether it’s cyclists, persons with disabilities, moms pushing baby strollers or elderly people trying to access the trail, the existing trail connection poses access limitations and safety concerns.

The project received $162,000 in 2016 and the go-ahead from city council. However, the money has been sitting in the Capital Facilities Plan budget, on hold, ever since.

Asked what could happen to this funding, Michelle Swanson, city staff for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, says there are no other Neighborhood Pathways projects scheduled.

“This gives us the flexibility to reserve the funding for the Ensign Pathway for a while, in case the property owners decide to come back to the negotiating table. Were there another project in the pipeline, we probably would have moved on from building that project. 

“As we told them, we do hope they’ll come back to the table. We believe in the value of this project,” she said.

Above: John Gessner has lived at The Firs for about two and a half years. He uses a motorized scooter and must go out of his way to use alternative access points to the trail, either behind Kaiser Permanente or to the south, near Olympia Crest Apartments, along Lilly Road. He says there are five or six residents with scooters who would like to use the trail, but don't, due to the lack of safe access.

Last month, Gessner took a spill off of his scooter at the intersection of Lilly and Ensign Road. Luckily, several passersby immediately jumped out of their cars to assist him and right his scooter. He was shook up and slightly injured. Gessner wants trail access closest to the facility so he doesn’t have to use the streets to access services. I was lucky. My scooter was laying on top of me. I wouldn't have been able to get it off of me if it hadn't been for those folks.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Special Olympics Softball in Olympia

Above: Thurston County softball team member Sam Spencer, left, gives a high five to a member of the Bremerton-Kitsap athletic team after a game at LBA Park in Olympia on Saturday afternoon.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Raucous cheers of support, gentle chiding between teammates, and lots of humor could be heard all day as Special Olympics Washington held its 2017 Southwest Region Softball Tournament at LBA Park in Olympia on Saturday.

“Way to go, Michaela!” and “Nice hustle, Adam!” could be heard coming out of the Cowlitz Black Bears’ dugout. The T-ball team from Kelso was playing a team from South Kitsap.

“Drink some water!” coaches, caregivers, and parents often urged.

“I’m hot,” said one player.

“So is everyone else – you’re no different,” replied his teammate.

Above: Henry, with the Bremerton-Kitsap athletic team, takes the batter's stance.

About 800 players and 48 teams participated in softball games organized at LBA Park and Yauger Park on Saturday, set at a variety of ability levels depending upon player abilities, said Jennifer Palmer, senior sports manager for Special Olympics Washington, who was staffing the registration table.

Traditional teams have several divisions made up of players working within a range of abilities. Unified teams made up of team members with and without disabilities also compete. If an individual’s skill set isn’t at the T-ball or traditional team level, they play other games.

She said the state is broken up into four regions for the tournaments. The Southwest region covers an area from the top of the Olympic Peninsula down to Vancouver, and includes Pierce County.  

The teams that advance at the regional level will go to the state championships held August 18-20 in Everett.

Special Olympics Washington relies on many volunteers, including Tom McCann, who said he has been involved with Special Olympics for eight years.

While he was busy at the registration area, Palmer said McCann earned the 2007 Special Olympics Washington State volunteer of the year award because he comes to every event and has the great ability to anticipate a need.

Above: Bob Tauscher, coach for the Thurston County team, gives a high five to a player who just ran to home base.

Bob Tauscher, a coach for the Thurston County team, has been involved with Special Olympics for about 20 years, focusing on basketball and softball teams.

He said Thurston County is represented by several teams at all ability levels with players ranging in age from 12 to 63.

While getting his team ready for a game, he immediately credited Thurston County coach Mark Barker with organizing special education programs and teams out of his home for the last ten years. Barker was coaching Saturday at the Special Olympics tournament's Yauger Park location.

Thurston County dropped its funding for special education programs, amid serious outcry by participants, parents and advocates, several years ago. 

“Mark is one heck of an awesome coach,” interjected Ali Chambers, 34, who says Barker has been her coach since 2006. She says she is more into soccer, but came to the tournament to cheer on her friends and take pictures. 

“I’m the paparazzi,” she laughed.

Hal and Donna Spencer sat near the Thurston County team dugout, supporting the team and their son, Sam, aged 36.

Hal Spencer is a retired reporter for Associated Press, and spent his last 12 years in Olympia covering the Legislature.

Spencer says Special Olympics sports bring a lot of joy to people with developmental disabilities and those who support them. As a family, the Spencer's have been involved with Special Olympics for about 20 years.

In the past, Sam enjoyed participating with Left Foot Organics, a now-defunct organization that promoted self-sufficiency and inclusion for people with disabilities and rural youth while growing and selling organic food.

“Special Olympics help Sam feel like he’s part of something. Those on the spectrum often feel isolated. He enjoys the camaraderie,” added Donna Spencer.

For a history about Thurston County's specialized recreation programs and budget situation, go to Little Hollywood, and

For a history of Left Foot Organics, go to Little Hollywood,

Above: There was lots of excitement as a South Kitsap team player got caught between second and third base. As the ball was thrown to third base, she ran back to second base.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Lacey City Council Hears Homeless, Advocates

Above: The Lacey City Council listens to a speaker at the podium about a proposed ordinance prohibiting camping in public places on Thursday evening. Patrick and Danelle Helsper, foreground, live in a recreational vehicle in a parking lot in Lacey and spoke to the council about their current circumstance.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The City of Lacey just turned 50, and the city council held an appreciation ceremony at its meeting Thursday night for those who made the year long celebration a success.

The accolades, though well deserved, along with the announcement of the city's new song, You're Never a Stranger in Lacey, could not have been more poorly timed.

Ironically, the city also had on their agenda consideration of an ordinance related to the prohibition of camping on public property. 

Tens of community members, social workers, and advocates for street people filled the room in opposition to the ordinance. Hasty conversations between council members just prior to the start of the meeting was observed

When it came time to approve the agenda, Mayor Andy Ryder made a motion to table the controversial agenda item, saying he wanted people to have a chance to comment on it.

City councils typically do not allow public comment on items already on the agenda and there had been no previous public discussion about the proposed ordinance.

City attorney Dave Schneider gave a brief report, then the council unanimously put the item on the agenda for discussion at their next work session, scheduled for August 3 at 7:00 p.m., Lacey City Council chambers.

The staff report, which lists no disadvantages to the ordinance, reads, Increasingly, people are camping in public areas in cities and towns across the country. Such camping is taking place in areas that are not designated as, nor intended or designed for camping. The allowance of camping in such areas presents health and safety concerns for the public. Other Washington cities have begun to regulate camping activities via their city codes. 

Currently there is limited regulation on this type of camping in the City of Lacey. Recent case law suggests that regulations which prohibit camping in public areas are permissible provided adequate shelter options are available for those camping due to lack of shelter. In the Lacey-Olympia-Tumwater area there are several such shelters available, some partly funded by public means. Accordingly, the City of Lacey may legally regulate camping.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit camping in any park, on any street, or publicly owned parking lot or publicly owned area. Violators would be subject to a $1,000 fine or by imprisonment not to exceed ninety days, or both.

compassionate enforcement section states that the investigating officer shall inquire as to whether the camping is due to homelessness. If the officer learns that is the case, the officer shall determine whether any known homeless shelters within the cities of Lacey, Olympia, or Tumwater have adequate space and facilities available to accommodate the subject of the investigation. 

If the officer determines that all such shelter space is full, the officer shall not issue a citation. If the officer determines that there is shelter space available, the officer may, within his or her discretion, issue a citation, provide directions to the shelter and/or offer one-time transportation to the shelter.

Above: Community members lined up to address the Lacey City Council Thursday night.

A wide range of representatives and volunteers from area homeless support and advocacy organizations, such as Sidewalk, Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter, and Just Housing argued that there are not enough shelters in the region to house the homeless. The City of Lacey does not have a homeless shelter.

Community activists with veteran support groups, the Libertarian Party, the Thurston County Democratic Party, and various Tumwater and Lacey city council candidates all spoke in opposition to the ordinance. 

Others literally came out of the woods to speak for themselves, telling first-hand stories of their experiences with homelessness.

In all, thirty articulate, passionate speakers spoke to council members.

Just Housing arranged carpools for several people to attend the meeting. Many speakers handed out flowers to council members.

The flowers, some with names attached, signified those who have passed away on the streets or those who are surviving on the streets without shelter.

Tye Gundel, an organizer with Just Housing, said she wanted the flowers to remind council members that the ordinance represents so much more than a simple rule on paper.

“It is an ordinance that has the potential to affect the lives and survival of hundreds. We need to remind them that each one of them has the power in their vote to prevent so many more beautiful flowers from suffering and even possibly, from dying,” she said before the meeting.

Patrick and Danelle Helsper came to the meeting on their own, after hearing about the proposed ordinance on Seattle based radio stations KIRO and KOMO.

“I can’t give you an address,” Patrick Helsper started, trying to fulfill the typical requirement requested by public bodies when speakers approach the podium to speak.

He said he and his wife have been married for 34 years. Their home was foreclosed, and both have medical issues, making them unable to work. They receive Social Security, and park their motorhome in the parking lot of a Lacey business.

The couple says there aren’t enough recreational vehicle parks in the area and Capitol Forest changed its rules, allowing camping ten days in a calendar year.

“We don’t litter or leave trash. …We’re not criminals, we don’t do drugs, we’re just down on our luck! What are we supposed to do? We want to know!

Eric Miller said that this proposed ordinance hit home for him because he and his brother grew up homeless in Lacey.

When he was about 13 years old, his single mother developed agoraphobia, a fear of leaving the house, which they eventually did not have. He did as many odd jobs as he could. Friends would let them sleep in their garage or on couches. They also lived on the streets.

Through all that, he was vice president of his student body, graduated from South Sound High School, and received a community service award.

“My childhood was not easy, but one benefit that I feel like we had was that my mom didn’t have to run from the police or worry about our RV getting towed or impounded. We did have a lot of other things to worry about, but to me, at a time that income inequality is growing further, we need to look for a way to reach out to the most vulnerable and make things easier for them instead of figuring out new ways to attack them,” he said in an interview before the meeting.

James Blair, of Yelm, is chair of the Libertarian Party of Thurston County.

“When this meeting started, each and every one of you stood up and said The Pledge of Allegiance. The last sentence is, ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ This ordinance does not promote liberty and assuredly does not promote justice, he said. 

I don’t tell people this very much, but for nine months, I slept in my truck….Multiple times, wherever I parked, I was told to move….Everyone in this room could end up in the same situation….This doesn’t target homeless people? That’s the only people it’s targeting….You say other cities have this similar ordinances….If someone jumps off a cliff, would you? It’s wrong, and Lacey needs to step forward and find a different solution.

TJ LaRocque spoke as a private citizen in opposition to the ordinance. 

LaRocque works for Providence St. Peter Hospital and will serve as the manager for the Providence Community Care Center currently under construction in downtown Olympia. The center will provide wrap-around health and wellness services along with showers and restrooms.

He said that if the ordinance was enacted, it would be difficult to reverse, and that the City of Olympia’s ordinance, which is similar to the one proposed by Lacey, has caused damage to the community. 

“Even if this is with the best of intentions not meant to be coordinated around the homeless, there is no way to separate an ordinance like this from homelessness,” he said, saying that the majority of those who are car camping are families who could best be helped with rent assistance and rapid rehousing.

Since Lacey does not have a downtown, he said he does not want to see the ordinance push people out of Lacey and into a concentrated area like downtown Olympia.

“…And when people are looking at whether or not there are enough shelter beds, we fail as a community, referring to the 200 people per night who showed up per at Interfaith Works’ temporary warming center in downtown Olympia this past winter.

Eric Franks, a man who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, said he became homeless one and a half months ago because the property owner recently sold the home he was living in. He says this is his third stint with homelessness.

He said that Tuesday was the 27th anniversary of the American Disability Act, and learned that in the late 1800’s, there were American cities that made it illegal for persons with “ugly,” or “unsightly disabilities to appear in public.

“This ordinance criminalizes humanity. I don’t want to go backwards,” he said.

Phoenix Wendt, who lives in the woods, is active in finding solutions. She participated in the drafting of a resolution that will be introduced to the Olympia City Council at its meeting next Tuesday. If passed, it could result in a standing committee on homelessness.

Before the meeting, Wendt was circumspect about her situation.

I love everyone and I appreciate everyone to the point that, yeah, I may have a difficult past but this is the best I can give you right now. Why is it that evil is still in this world? Why does it still exist? It is to make us humble to have the pain and suffering to move us closer to understanding love, joy, and beautiful mercy and compassion for others. It brings us closer together,she said.

Above: Just Housing organized a rally outside Olympia City Hall on Tuesday evening.