Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thurston County Swearing-In Ceremony: Hugs, Handshakes and Smiles

Above: Newly sworn-in City of Olympia councilmember Renata Rollins, left, and her partner, Walker Lynn, were all smiles after a ceremony Thursday afternoon for Thurston County's November election winners. Rollins is a social worker and community advocate with experience working on homelessness and downtown safety issues.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

It was all hugs, handshakes and smiles at a swearing-in ceremony Thursday afternoon for Thurston County's November election winners. 

The event, held at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, was open to the public.

Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall administered the oaths of office for Thurston County treasurer, port commissioners, city and town councilmembers, school board directors, fire commissioners and more. Guest speakers included U.S. Congressman Denny Heck (D-10) and Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

According to the final tally, the number of registered voters in Thurston County was 176,312 and the total ballots counted were 60,478 for a voter turnout of just 34.3 percent.

The newly elected officials, many of whom had never run for public office before, worked hard for their positions, and now have a whole host of pressing issues to address.

Above: Phoenix Wendt speaks with Lacey city councilmembers Cynthia Pratt and Carolyn Cox. Pratt ran unopposed for reelection and Cox won her election against Ken Balsley with 54.87 percent of the vote.

Houseless issue advocate Phoenix Wendt eagerly worked the room, speaking with new Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater city councilmembers. Wendt, a resident of The Jungle of Hope, Olympia's largest homeless encampment, said she will be looking to the cities of Tumwater and Lacey for help in finding solutions for the region's houseless residents.

For the City of Olympia, new councilmembers Lisa Parshley and Renata Rollins, along with Councilmembers Clark Gilman and Jim Cooper who each won their races, will likely change city conversations and priorities. All their wins were by significant margins.

Renata Rollins won her election for Position 6 against incumbent Jeannine Roe with 53.8 percent of the vote. 

Rollins, a social worker and community advocate with experience working on homelessness and downtown safety issues, says her priorities will be to protect and expand affordable housing, take climate change seriously, stand up for equality and stand up to hate groups.

Lisa Parshley won her election for Position 5 against candidate Allen Miller with 62.28 percent of the vote. The seat was open because Councilmember Julie Hankins chose not to run for reelection.

Parshley is a veterinarian specializing in oncology. She says the environment, homelessness, and living wage issues are tied together and are her priorities.

As for the Port of Olympia, the budget, cargo contracts and related decisions are expected to remain the same with the reelection of Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor.

Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor narrowly won reelection to his District 2 seat with 50.74 percent of the vote against candidate Bill Fishburn, for a final difference of 802 votes.

Above: After the swearing-in ceremony, the newly elected officials gathered on the stage at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Amtrak Derailment Spurs Appeal for Blood Donations

Above: Lynette Manning, donor service recruiter at Bloodworks Northwest in Olympia, answers questions from Amos Wood, who arrived to donate blood in response to the Amtrak train derailment near Olympia on Monday morning.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The public response for blood donations in the aftermath of the early Monday morning Amtrak train derailment near Olympia has been overwhelming but much appreciated by local blood donor centers.

There continues to be a special need for O-type blood and AB plasma and platelets.

At 5:00 p.m., donor service recruiter Lynette Manning at Bloodworks Northwest, 1220 Eastside Street SE in Olympia, was busy. She said the office had accepted about 200 donors on Monday. 

While the office was still packed with dozens waiting to donate blood, potential blood donors lined up outside but were not turned away. Instead, Manning was busy scheduling appointments for donors to come back throughout the week and fielded a lot of questions about donating blood.

Amos Wood arrived and scheduled an appointment for Saturday. 

At first he wasn’t sure he could donate blood because he has a fresh tattoo, but Manning assured him that as long as the tattoo was done in a licensed facility in Washington, Oregon, Idaho or California, there was no problem. 

“The rules have changed about that,” she added.

A woman said she just had a biopsy that day and wondered if she could donate blood. Manning questioned her. Did you have blood drawn? Did you receive tissue from someone else? The woman said no to both questions, so Manning told her it wasn’t a problem.

Little Hollywood asked Manning what she wants people to know about donating blood.

“With tragedies like this, although it’s very sad and a surprise, it’s helpful for people to do this on a regular basis because a lot of the blood that’s being used for today’s patients is blood that we collected days and weeks ago. It’s great we get this kind of turnout but it’s really important to get consistent donations coming in. We need about 800 donations a day in order to keep up with the needs for Western Washington. Bloodworks Northwest is the sole provider for blood for over 90 hospitals,” Manning said.

Bloodworks Northwest has donor centers from Bellingham, Washington to Eugene, Oregon.

According to news sources, the train derailment resulted in at least three deaths and more than 100 injured. Thurston County first responders were involved at the scene and the injured were taken to local hospitals.

Blood donor appointments can be made online at or by calling 1-800-398-7888. Information about center locations and times can be found at

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Jungle of Hope: Olympia’s Largest Homeless Encampment

Above: David and Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice were among dozens of volunteers who helped on Saturday to clean up The Jungle, a wooded area between Martin Way and Pacific Avenue near 3200 Pacific Avenue, where an estimated 150 – 200 people live. The cleanup continues on Sunday.

CleanUp Efforts Underway this Weekend
By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Editor’s Note: Little Hollywood was provided an extended, in-depth tour of The Jungle on Saturday. Photos of specific areas and individuals were taken with permission. Interviews were also granted to Little Hollywood with permission that the information could be shared. Little Hollywood has chosen to use discretion in revealing some names and information in this and future articles.

Dave, 49, is a lifelong resident of Olympia, born at the old St. Peter Hospital on the westside and is quickly slipping through the cracks of society’s safety net. 

Waiting for Social Security payments that could qualify him for about $800 a month, he has a blood vessel that puts pressure on his brain, occasionally causing seizures. He’s going to counseling, which is the start of a long paper trail, but isnt optimistic that hes going to get the help he needs. He said it took a friend of his who had lupus ten years to qualify and start receiving payments.

Dave is homeless, and has been a resident of The Jungle, Olympia’s largest homeless encampment in the wooded area between Martin Way and Pacific Avenue adjacent to the former Desire Video business at 3200 Pacific Avenue, for the past two and a half months.

The Jungle, a 1906 classic novel written by the American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair, portrayed the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in Chicago and similar industrialized cities.

In Olympia, however, The Jungle is spread out over ten acres and several parcels belonging to three separate property owners. Three of the ten acres is a sensitive wetland in the Woodland Creek watershed.

A major cleanup there is underway this weekend. Instead of the area being known as The Jungle, word is out that it is now called the Jungle of Hope.

Sponsored by Just Housing, a local housing advocacy group, the Socialist Party USA – South Sound Organizing Area, and United Love in Action Coalition, the cleanup event called Jingle of Hope continues on Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

As volunteers gathered at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, the temperature was a bone-chilling 35 degrees. Volunteers signed liability waivers and were urged not to touch anything they didn’t want to, but to summon assistance from others who were trained to deal with sharps and other hazardous materials.

Wheelbarrows, gloves, rakes, shovels, and sharps containers were distributed. Groups were initially dispatched to specific areas in groups of three, but as the morning wore on, more volunteers arrived to help, leading to an all-out cleanup of several areas.

A huge dumpster, paid for by Indivisible Thurston County, is on site for the entire weekend.

A local business, Kell-Chuck Glass, arrived early and offered their truck to help sort and return shopping carts on the property to area businesses. By the end of Saturday, they had returned about 120 carts. There are about 180 left.

Grassroots Efforts

Event coordinators reached out through social media to spread the word about the cleanup of the camp, which is home to an estimated 150 to 200 people who have nowhere else to go.

Volunteers arrived and offered their cars and trucks to take loads to the landfill. Jungle of Hope residents also helped.

The amount of debris is massive as years of discarded trash, human waste and needles have accumulated on the property. Part of the area was a former housing site that burned down in 1969, remnants of which are still clearly visible.

Above: Tye Gundel, left, and Chelsea Rustad help coordinate cleanup activities at The Jungle on Saturday morning.

Of the cleanup effort, “one property owner is supportive, one has not been able to be reached, and the other, when contacted, allowed volunteers to use the former Desire Video parking lot to stage and coordinate the event,” said Chelsea Rustad, one of the coordinators of the cleanup.

“It’s been interesting because the first question people usually ask isn’t how they can help or what to bring, but whether we have permits. Permits of this nature don’t exist because survival camping is illegal in Olympia, even with the property owner’s permission, and that’s besides the fact that some of these people will die from exposure if they are forced to vacate their homes in the middle of winter. So there was also an opportunity to advance understanding of the city’s ordinances and how they are designed to perpetuate houselessness,” said Rustad.

“My stance and that of the Socialist Party is that legality is not morality, and helping human beings survive is more important than whatever oppressive laws happen to be on the books at that time. We also recognize that many municipalities intentionally criminalize the state of being houseless so that they can push this vulnerable population away using the police force, and dehumanize them by getting the general population to see them as criminals.

“Overall, I feel it’s not my place to judge why anyone ended up where they are. They were asking for help, and to be seen as human beings. Taking direct action to help them without talking over them or putting myself in the spotlight was the very least I could do,” she said.

Above: Tye Gundel of Just Housing, left, uses a pair of grabbers to pick up several needles discovered by Jungle cleanup volunteer Joanne McCaughan.

The homeless who live there could also be called domestic refugees. They pitch their tents and create flimsy shelters out of tarps and pallets, enduring year round weather extremes. Mazes of paths run through the property. The terrain is uneven and undulates with ravines. It would be easy to get lost at any time of day or night.

Many residents of The Jungle face medical challenges, unable to get proper medications, and lack support of family. Many are lifelong Olympians. Some are mentally challenged or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some have been kicked out of group homes that have failed them or are escaping domestic violence. Others are new arrivals, down on their luck. Some are veterans, mothers, elderly and disabled.

Until recently, a 21 month old child lived in The Jungle, amid the unsanitary trash and debris and needles.

This past week, Olympia area evening temperatures dipped into the 20s. Around the wetland portion of the property, the temperature is at least seven degrees cooler.

Several volunteers were asked how they heard about the event and why they came to help.

“We felt like this community needed to be supported…we feel responsible. We need to work together to make a community that is clean and safe and livable for all of us,” said Joanne McCaughan. She and her husband Doug arrived early to deliver several wheelbarrows and tools and work for as long as they could hold out.

“For me, as a Christian, it’s part of the Gospel. The Gospel says that everyone deserves a home. It’s that economic justice that Jesus talked about, and the prophets talked about, and the dignity of all people. I believe God is concerned about the dignity of all people,” said Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice of Holy Wisdom Inclusive Catholic Community Church.

“And we were invited! That’s the other thing,” her friend Saima Scott interjected. “Phoenix came to us and asked for help. When someone asks you for help, you can’t just ignore it, you know? I mean, what do you do?”

Above: Phoenix Wendt is a resident of The Jungle and started the idea for the Jingle of Hope cleanup effort. She has also created a new group, United Love in Action Coalition. She provided Little Hollywood an extended tour of the Jungle of Hope. In front of her is The Thinking Tree.

Phoenix Wendt, 35, is a resident of The Jungle, and started the idea for Jingle of Hope. She most recently formed the United Love in Action Coalition. Her efforts looking after The Jungle’s most vulnerable residents and maintaining safety and order has been met with appreciation and praise from others. She was busy along with others on Saturday coordinating supplies and cleanup efforts.

Wendt has lived in The Jungle since early June. She introduced me to residents and showed me debris strewn areas with specific names like The Mansion and The Amphitheater, trees with special names like the Thinking Tree, and a path named Blackberry Lane.  

One area is comprised of residents who were cleared out by code enforcements officials from behind the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Martin Way near Applehill Court. 

“About sixty-five percent of our residents have chronic conditions like lupus, multiple cancers in various stages, and mental health issues….I can’t work because of cancer and other medical conditions and I’m not letting go of my people,” said Wendt, who is working to get 501(c) 3 nonprofit status for her new organization.

The area has been an encampment for decades but attracted more attention when Wendt distributed a flyer earlier this month to Olympia city councilmembers during a council meeting suggesting that the property was being cleaned and prepared for the building of tiny homes for the local houseless community.

Near or at the same time, the city, in response to recent complaints about the encampment, sent courtesy notices to the property owners informing them of the encampment on their property and requested that they correct the situation within 14 days.

Just Housing says that courtesy notices have historically led to the eviction of an encampment, but in this case, the next step is up to the property owners, who have asked the city for more time to figure out how to proceed.  

“We are trying to work with the city, the property owners, the area businesses, and our houseless neighbors in The Jungle to come up with a humanitarian path forward that addresses the concerns and needs of all parties involved. This is a complicated situation with many moving parts,” said Tye Gundel, a spokesperson for Just Housing.

Just Housing is also working with the city to work on possible revisions to the city’s existing houseless encampment ordinance.

Interviewed early on Saturday, Kevin Neiswanger, general manager of the Mullinax Ford dealership, welcomed cleanup volunteers to use their restroom, eat their donuts, and get some hot coffee.

He says residents of The Jungle are pretty respectful. 

They come over and use the facilities and grab a cup of coffee. Sometimes we chat. We don't mind that. There's good people over there. I haven't had any issues with them, he said.

He also said he doesn't want to see the residents kicked off the property in winter.

That's not cool, he said.

How to Help: The cleanup will continue on Sunday, December 17. Tents, trash bags, canopies, winter clothes, gloves, socks, bedding, hand warmers, food and drinks, first aid kits and more are being accepted by Just Housing. 

For more information, go to Just Housing at or attend a Just Housing meeting from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. every Monday at the POWER office at 309 5th Avenue SE, Olympia. To contribute monetarily, Just Housing uses a PayPal account at

Above: A child's stuffed animal lies amid debris and leaves in the Jungle of Hope.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Who Pays Port Protest Costs?

Above: The City of Olympia incurred about $40,000 in costs associated with the recent 12 day long railroad blockade in downtown Olympia. 

- Squaxin Island Tribe Writes Letter to Port, City

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

A special Port of Olympia work session was initiated by Commissioner E.J. Zita who requested that commissioners consider reimbursing the City of Olympia for law enforcement costs related to the recent blockade of the railroad tracks by activists collectively known as Olympia Stand.

The 12 day rail blockade occurred November 17 – 29 and was in response to the Port of Olympia’s involvement in the acceptance of ceramic proppants and transfer of cargo to trains bound for North Dakota or Wyoming. Ceramic proppants are used in the process of hydraulic fracking for gas and oil extraction.

Zita participated in the meeting via speakerphone.

Precedent for reimbursement was set in 2007 when the Port of Olympia reimbursed the City of Olympia $70,000 for law enforcement related to protests involving the port’s acceptance of military cargo.

Port executive director Ed Galligan said that figure was arrived at through an “amicable discussion” between himself and Olympia city manager Steve Hall. The city had requested $100,000.

At a city council meeting Tuesday evening and again at Wednesday’s port meeting, Hall reported that the city spent about $40,000 - $45,000 related to the rail blockade.

While the numbers are preliminary, $18,000 was in direct cost associated with time spent by employees dealing with the blockade during regular work hours, about $21,000 spent in overtime and $1,800 spent in landfill and other costs associated with removing five tons of debris from the blockade site. There were also costs associated with graffiti removal from nearby buildings.

Costs from other law enforcement entities are currently unknown.

The question of who pays for the actions of protesters was debated by commissioners for nearly an hour.

In the end, Commissioner Downing wanted to wait until the city gives the port an indication of whether or not they want to be reimbursed and wanted Galligan to have that conversation with Hall and communicate the outcome to commissioners.

He said that the port is a lightning rod for a whole host of military, energy, and international trade issues.

“The bigger concern is how do we keep from having another protest? We could have protests against log exports next. Where do we draw the line? Downing asked.

Zita responded that the city has already given the port guidance on how to prevent future protests and referred to the city’s 2014 resolution which asks the port to reconsider its contract with Rainbow Ceramics and transfer of ceramic proppant cargo.

Downing said city resolutions cover a lot of bases, and that one in particular also makes requests of Hoquiam and Grays Harbor.

“That doesn’t mean we have the desire or ability to follow the resolutions coming from other entities,” he said.

Commissioner Bill McGregor said he is all for having a conversation with the city at a future time.

“What we don’t have is a reaction plan (in the event of a protest). Who pays?”

McGregor said a mutual aid agreement is needed between the entities so the “rule of law” is upheld faster than ten to twelve days after the initiation of a protest.

Galligan was tasked with additional research on a number of issues, including the amount of ceramic proppant that has been transported from the port since 2014, when the contract with Rainbow Ceramics was renewed. The contract expires July 14, 2019. 

At its peak in about 2013, the port averaged about 100 rail cars a month loaded with ceramic proppant, said the port at the time.

Downing also said he met informally with City of Olympia police chief Ronnie Roberts earlier on Wednesday for about 45 minutes. He said the two had never met before.

In November 2016, Roberts gave a tersely worded statement in front of Olympia city council members denouncing the Port of Olympia's ceramic proppant shipments. 

Squaxin Island Tribe Letter to Port, City

The chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe wrote a strongly worded letter this week to Port of Olympia commissioners and City of Olympia council members disassociating the Tribe from recent port-related rail blockade and protesters.

The letter signed by Arnold Cooper, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe, is dated December 1 and was distributed to media and members of the public by Port Commissioner Joe Downing just prior to the special work session held by the port commission on Wednesday.

“The Tribe has become aware of protests concerning the transportation of fracking materials through the Port of Olympia. The main group reported by the media to be leading these protests, Olympia Stand, as well as their followers, has repeatedly implied that it is acting on behalf of the Squaxin Island Tribe to protect the Tribe’s ancestral lands.

“Please be aware that Olympia Stand does not represent the interests or agenda of the Squaxin Island Tribe nor is Olympia Stand affiliated with the Tribe. The Squaxin Island Tribe’s Tribal Council and those designated by the Tribal Council are the only entity and individuals with the authority to speak on behalf of the Tribe.

“Additionally, the Squaxin Island Tribe does not associate with advocacy groups that use force, intimidation, or cause damage to personal or public property. The Tribe does not support the blocking of the Port of Olympia by Olympia Stand and other protestors nor does it condone the harassment of police or other government officials as a means to further its purposes.”

The letter also says the Tribe respects the government to government relationship that it has developed with the Port of Olympia and City of Olympia and appreciates the mutually respected protocol developed to work on common interests, resolve disputes, and determine solutions.

Little Hollywood has written extensively about Port of Olympia and the rail blockade issues. For more information and photos, go to and type key words into the search engine.