Olympia tent city resist City’s “scattered sites” management plan

In Washington State’s capital city Olympia, which occupies the lands of the Chehalis, Nisqually, Squaxin, Skokomish, and Duwamish nations, there are at least four major and long-standing tent cities, each functioning as informal home to around a hundred people. Like in nearly every other city on the pacific rim, these tent cities are a thorn in the side of the municipal government. Olympia is notable for its recent attempts to regulate and manage these tent cities without housing the residents. Olympia’s county board of commissioner’s “scattered site management project” is its most sophisticated attempt yet to pour resources into homelessness without housing people, and without assuming responsibility for the living well being of people abandoned there.

On April 12th, a Red Braid member living in Olympia, Leviathan Davis, supported residents of one of these targeted tent cities, called Wheeler Camp, to speak out against the city’s management plan and to call for housing. This article was published in Wheeler Camp’s inaugural “Wheeler News” newsletter. – Ed.

On April 12, Wheeler residents and community members spoke out against their exclusion from a new city plan called the “Scattered Site Management Project.” Passed a day earlier, the plan puts the management of Wheeler tent city, Ensign road, and The Lake into the hands of the city and social workers.

Proposed by the Regional Housing Council, a group of elected city officials tasked with managing homelessness and affordable housing in the county, the “Scattered Site Management Project” is estimated to cost the city up to one million dollars, according to The Olympian. It will transform the existing tent and RV cities into monitored sites by bringing in city designated Site Management, Site Governance, and Case Management staff to “work with residents to establish and enforce codes of conduct and accountability measures,” use “the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS),” and establish “a list of campers at sites ‘by name’” to “track their progress” in exchange for services like regular garbage disposal and hygiene services including portable toilets and hand-washing stations. Changes from this plan have already started with city planned “clean ups” at The Lake and ticketing resident roadside vehicles at Wheeler.

During the news conference, Rick Abrams, a Wheeler community member, explained what this plan will mean to the residents of the affected sites. He said, “They plan on bringing people in and delegating our needs and self governing our camps to better fit their agendas. And in the end, we’re still gonna see not what we need because we’re not even being addressed.” 

Rick underlined housing as the key issue and criticized the city’s exclusion of tent city residents from its planning as a violation of human rights:

“I do feel like our rights are being invaded…We have once again [been] threatened to exist by city officials making demands of our livelihood without asking our needs and concerns. They’re treating us as if we’re all mental…and they’re not giving us any ability to prove to them because they’re not giving us the ability to talk to them.”

“The real problem we have is obviously housing.”

Jessika, a Wheeler resident at the time, read a speech written by Mamma Jade, a long-time Wheeler street mother. Jessika added a few words of her own and both she and Mamma Jade highlighted the strength and organic organization of the street community as well as the lack of respect granted to camp residents by the city.

Mamma Jade states, “Here…people have nothing but love for me. Here I am a part of someone’s life, part of something…and when needed [they] take time to make sure I’m ok.” She continued, “We don’t come into your home and tell you how to raise your children. Please, with all due respect, don’t come into our home and raze our village. We are not asking for a handout only asking you for a hand up and this means give us the necessary tools to take care of and raise our village in a dignified manner. So we can hold our heads high and work toward our community welfare as well as yours.”Jessika added, “We are independent. We don’t need to be governed. We need to be accepted as equals since this is all of our communities. We all have value and worth; we all have valued opinions. This ain’t prison. We have no warden other than ourselves.”

“It’s not just about the homeless people, it’s about us all working together,” continued Jessika. Like Jessika, Rick expressed his hopes to see a unified effort from the community to address their continued exclusion from the city’s plans: “Today we’re making a kind of stand…We need to establish from today forward a group from the city talking to us before they actually go and make plans, because it’s affecting our civil liberties.”

This conference was a demonstration of the Wheeler community making its first steps in coming together to build its own voice and power to push back against the city’s uncalled for requirements on the lives of the street community.A reporter from The Olympian who arrived to cover the press conference later told Rick that they could not report on the story because “none of the people present were camp residents,” which was both untrue and failed to understand the social dynamics of the broader street community. This shows how community residents continue to be unheard and left in the dark about exclusionary systems of government and social worker control that directly impact the community, as well as their attempts to speak out against them.

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