Friday, December 9, 2016

Ho-Ho-Hobo: The People’s Holiday Stand

Above: Tim and Charity were making wreathes at the Ho-Ho-Hobo wreath stand located near Old School Pizzeria in downtown Olympia on Thursday. Charity says this was her second wreath. “The first one took me an hour and a half but it was fun! This will be a tradition, even if we have a home,” she laughed.

By Janine Gates

Ho-Ho-Hobo…no, that’s not a tastless joke…it’s the name of a fun, innovative wreath stand created by and for the street community, who make the beautiful holiday wreaths at the stand with love and humor in downtown Olympia.

Located in the parking lot of Old School Pizzeria at 108 Franklin Street between 4th Avenue and State Street, the wreath stand's hours are 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., everyday except Wednesdays, until Christmas. 

Wreath stand volunteer Walker Stephens and a crew of others serve hot drinks and help members of the street community make the wreaths out of natural and found materials.

Donations for the wreaths are accepted on a sliding scale, but Stephens recommends $30. For that amount, $5.00 immediately goes to the person who made the wreath, $5.00 goes toward the person who collects brush for the wreaths, $5.00 goes toward gas and supplies, $10 goes toward laundry, and $5.00 goes toward a grand prize and holiday party. All additional profits go back into the community.

The project is into its second season. Last year, the stand sold 400 wreaths, which put $2,000 directly into street people’s pockets. 

A woman named Charity was busy making a wreath, her second one. 

“My first one sold already!” she said, with a beautiful smile. Charity said she is from Spokane and has been homeless for four years. She’s been in Olympia since October.

“...Homelessness just kind of happened, and it stays that way without you realizing how long it’s been….”

Above: Sean McCartney made a wreath at the Ho-Ho-Hobos stand. He is homeless and is willing to do odd jobs such as putting up Christmas lights.

Sean McCartney also made a wreath and said he stayed at Salvation Army on Wednesday night. He was third to the last one in before the shelter said they had no more room. He said he felt lucky, and tried to give his bed away to an older gentleman who couldn’t get in, but the man wouldn’t take it.

McCartney says he has been clean and sober for over just over two years. He doesn’t have a telephone with minutes on it, but asked Little Hollywood to let readers know that he is looking for work and willing to do odd jobs such as putting up Christmas lights. He is raising funds so he can get to California to see his sister’s wedding in a couple weeks. He said interested folks can stop by the wreath stand on Saturday from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. to meet him and chat.

Asked how he got involved organizing this activity, Stephens said that wreaths are the tree spirits’ way to welcome vulnerable spirits into the warmth of the home.

“I’m housed now, but I haven’t always been. This is to empower unhoused community members to advocate for themselves. Providing this service offers a little extra bump,” said Stephens.

Stephens said that due to city ordinances that criminalize survival, camps face constant evictions and sweeps, leading to ruined equipment. He was incredulous when he heard that the City of Olympia recently asked for bids from firms for up to $250,000 to clean up the mess caused by these evictions and relocations.

“It’s a mess street folks are proud to clean up themselves given the opportunity. Last year, our real focus was collecting soiled wet blankets and jackets. Through wreath revenues, we provided transportation and money for the laundry mat,” said Stephens. He is doing that again this year.

New this year is a competition for best wreath maker. Anyone may vote once per day from now until Christmas, and the overall winner will receive $200. Downtown workers and residents are encouraged to stop by regularly, and check out the constantly revolving selection of wreaths. Some wreaths are particularly stunning.

The wreath stand is also excited to repeat last year’s successful Christmas party with pizza provided by Old School Pizzeria. The idea is the spirit of giving: it is a party thrown by the street community, for the larger community. 

Connie Phegley, owner of Old School Pizzeria, is also vice-chair of the downtown Olympia Parking & Business Improvement Area (PBIA) board. The PBIA is a self-taxing district of over 400 downtown businesses. She is supportive of the Ho-Ho-Hobo stand, and offered up two business parking spaces for the effort. 

Phegley was also present at Thursday evening's neighborhood meeting to discuss the temporary use permit for Interfaith Works to open a daytime warming shelter. The PBIA board thanked the City of Olympia for its financial support of Interfaith Works at a recent council meeting.

Street dependency presents many difficult realities that our business community struggles to address. We are very encouraged by Interfaith Works creating, and the greater community supporting, a safe and clean space for people to go during the day in the cold winter months for shelter, warmth and access to bathrooms and social services, the board wrote in a November 22 letter to Olympia city councilmembers.

The group is accepting donations of warm survival supplies, interesting brush, such as pine, twigs, and holly, terracotta pots, candles, wreath frames and craft materials, and old campaign signs, which are perfect for cutting up to be used as name tags for the wreaths.

“It is a joyous opportunity for our community to get together and know itself better,” said Stephens.

To be on Ho-Ho-Hobo all volunteer staff, go down to the booth and sign up!

Above: Walker Stephens, in green coat, and volunteers keep the Ho-Ho-Hobo wreath stand productive. It is located in the parking lot next to Old School Pizzeria on Franklin Street, and just behind Dumpster Values in downtown Olympia. Walker is grateful to Old School Pizzeria and Bar Francis, a coffee shop inside Dumpster Values, which is providing the stand with hot coffee at cost.