Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Olympia Protesters Demand 24 Hour Restroom Access

Interfaith Works receives temporary use permit, opens warming center

Above: A lot of people have to go to the restroom after 7:00 p.m. Washington State Patrol Captain John Broome speaks with protesters outside the men’s restroom at Heritage Park on Water Street in downtown Olympia Monday night. Protesters are demanding 24 hour restroom access. Some participated in civil disobedience and successfully held the restroom open until 8:41 p.m. There were four arrests.

By Janine Gates

A woman was hit on her right side at close range by a pepper ball shot by an Olympia Police Department officer Monday night. She said the officer aimed right at her. She has a welt.

“Over a bathroom protest. It’s BS,” she told Little Hollywood later that night, admitting she was in the way of the men’s restroom door. Another person was also reportedly hit with a pepper ball.

For the third night in a row, about 25 protesters successfully kept the restrooms open at Heritage Park on Water Street in downtown Olympia past the time it was scheduled to be closed. Several supporters stood nearby.

Like previous evenings, Washington State Department of Enterprise Services staff arrived at closing time, 7:00 p.m., to lock the doors, forcing those needing access, such as the homeless, to pee and defecate in alleys and bushes in and around downtown Olympia. 

Protesters occupied the restrooms.

The Washington State Patrol and Olympia Police Department arrived. After warnings to clear the area, four were arrested in acts of civil disobedience. The men’s restroom was locked at 8:41 p.m.

Above: Olympia Police Department officers, armed with pepper ball guns, assist Washington State Patrol officers at the Heritage Park restrooms on Monday night about 8:35 p.m.

An Olympia area group called Just Housing has been advocating for justice in housing issues. 

The group wants the city to designate suitable public property for a legal tent encampment and to repeal laws that criminalize homelessness.

Most urgently, because everyone has to pee and poop, the group demands that the city and state open its public restrooms for 24 hour, seven days a week access. The homeless in particular have nowhere to go at night, every night.

The group has met with city staff and councilmembers for the last couple of months. 

On Saturday night, the Heritage Park restroom was open until about 7:35 p.m. and there was one arrest. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Department participated with the WSP and OPD that evening.

The men's restroom stayed open a full two hours past the time it was scheduled to be closed on Sunday night and there were no arrests.

For the last three evenings, community outreach worker and Just Housing advocate Renata Rollins has become an engaging citizen reporter, covering the events on Facebook Live, providing constant commentary and explanations for what the viewer is seeing and hearing.

Apparently without watching any of her online video, The Olympian newspaper and a Seattle television station reported that on Sunday evening, officers were locked in the restrooms, as if trapped by protesters. It was fake news.

Anyone present or watching the video live could see that the officers closed and locked the doors themselves to speak to the protesters inside and keep other protesters from entering.

“The Olympia city council has been debating public restrooms downtown for four years with no results yet....We have people sleeping outside in cold and isolation, and the authorities haven’t even been able to get us a bathroom. How are we going to solve the real problems our community faces?” Rollins said on Sunday.

Rollins said members of Just Housing had a meeting Monday afternoon with Washington State Department of Enterprise Services deputy director Bob Covington and other staff. He asked for time to come up with a “workable plan.” 

When asked how long, the response was two weeks, said Rollins.

“They wanted us to stop the protests and sit ins. I told him (Covington) that there are people really fired up and angry about this, especially after the outrageous escalated police response on Saturday night. Even if I’m not organizing people, people are going to be showing up,” she said.

Protesters chanted, “An injury to one is an injury to all – open up the bathroom stall!” and “Why are we here tonight? Bathrooms are a human right!” and Same time, same place, same time, same place,” as they dispersed Monday evening.

Just Housing welcomes anyone of goodwill to attend their meetings on Mondays from 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. at United Churches, 110 11th Avenue SE, in downtown Olympia, including the next two Mondays - no holiday break.

Above: No footsteps in the snow here. The restroom near the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and the Hands On Children’s Museum is just one of eight public restrooms in downtown Olympia. It is closed day and night due to problems with excessive drug paraphernalia, and is only open from May through September and for special events.

In related news, Interfaith Works received a temporary use permit to open a daytime winter warming center at 408 Olympia Avenue NE and opened on Monday. 

It served nearly 190 individuals when Little Hollywood stopped by at 4:30 p.m., a half hour before closing. The spacious building contains two restrooms inside, and two port-a-potties outside, which are locked at 5:00 p.m.

Guests were quietly resting, sleeping on mats, drinking hot coffee, and watching Pirates of the Caribbean.” 

For more information about the lack of 24/7 public restrooms in downtown Olympia, go to “Public Restroom Realities in Olympia: Challenges to a Human Need, a Human Right,” at http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2014/02/public-restroom-realities-in-olympia.html or type key words in the search button at Little Hollywood, or go to the City of Olympia website for current conversations.

For more information about the Interfaith Works warming center, go to Little Hollywood, http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2016/12/downtown-­olympia­winter-­warming­-center.html

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