Filed under: Action, Community Organizing, Gentrification, Housing, Northwest
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New campaign launched by Olympia Solidarity Network against anti-homeless measures.
The Olympia Solidarity Network (OlySol) has initiated a campaign against downtown Olympia businesses that contract with the private security contract firm, Pacific Coast Security (PCS). PCS operates nightly security patrol services to contracting businesses in an effort to displace and criminalize homeless people using alcoves and alleys as living space. Approximately 30 OlySol members and supporters delivered demand letters to the offices of both Harlequin Productions and Orca Construction/Cooper Realty.
The demand letters outlined the unethical nature of the criminalization of homelessness that PCS engages in and calls for an immediate cancellation of all PCS contracts. The demand letter specified that if these businesses do not cancel their contracts within 14 days, further action will be taken. Additionally, approximately two dozen other downtown Olympia businesses that are known to contract with PCS, but aren’t currently being directly targeted in a campaign, were also delivered letters. These letters explained that OlySol was targeting two neighboring businesses and that if other businesses in downtown don’t stop contracting with PCS, any one could be the subject of a new direct action campaign.
Pacific Coast Security is headquartered in Tacoma, WA and provides services throughout the south Puget Sound region. PCS (like other private security forces) is distinct from but complementary to state-operated police departments. PCS guards have the power to trespass people sleeping or sitting in alcoves and alleyways but must call upon Olympia Police Department (OPD) to perform arrests of trespassed individuals. The recent increase in contracts between downtown businesses and Pacific Coast Security has been encouraged and facilitated by the Olympia Downtown Alliance (ODA). ODA is a self-described “business advocacy” organization whose actions constitute a significant political force for gentrification in the city. While ODA doesn’t directly financially subsidize contracts, the group provides technical assistance and other conveniences that incentivize businesses to contract with PCS. Disturbingly, nightly patrols by PCS guards have been effective in driving many homeless people out of the core of downtown and into encampments on the periphery of downtown, or further into the city’s eastern and western neighborhoods. Out of downtown, homeless residents have a harder time accessing necessary services.
The PCS contracts highlight the current contradictory trends regarding responses to homelessness in Olympia. On the one hand, as Olympia gentrifies there is strong pressure from the city government and business owners to displace and criminalize the hundreds of homeless people who call Olympia home. On the other hand, persistent direct action and mutual aid organizing from homeless solidarity activists has forced the city government to concede on some issues. Recently, a relatively progressive city council passed resolutions to open limited legal camping sites and allocate funding for a day center and other services. As minimal as these reforms are, they have provoked outrage among Olympia’s local ruling class, hence business owners increasingly utilizing PCS security services.
Moreover, the city government is experiencing internal conflict on the question of homelessness. Many city council members are generally supporting more progressive legislation, while the unelected city manager and other city bureaucrats maintain highly reactionary positions and implement repressive and criminalizing measures. This internal political conflict came to a fore recently when Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation Director Paul Simmons made the unilateral decision to shutter the Artesian Commons, a local park and important home and hang-out for street youth in particular. Read more about the park closure decision and resistance to it here: https://itsgoingdown.org/olympia-anger-grows-as-city-comes-down-on-homeless/.
Finally, these tensions are exacerbated by increasing homelessness in the region, fueled by skyrocketing housing costs, low wages and an erosion of social services.
As conflicts over homelessness and access to public space heighten, OlySol is well equipped to intervene in the broader homeless solidarity movement in Olympia. With a track record of successfully combating stolen deposits, wage theft and refused repairs, a consistent capacity to mobilize community members, and politicize working-class people in the process, OlySol can help advance a viable, direct action-based strategic approach within the movement.