Sunday’s homeless advocacy group protest at the Heritage Park bathrooms ended peacefully, a day after one person was arrested at another gathering of the group, according to a protester, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Enterprise Services and the Washington State Patrol.
DES manages state-owned property, including Heritage Park, and the Washington State Patrol handles security there. Both were involved in addressing the weekend demonstrations.
The homeless advocacy group, Just Housing, largely seeks to expand hours and improve access to the limited number of public bathrooms in downtown Olympia. One of those bathrooms is at Heritage Park, but it closes at 7 p.m. in winter, in line with park hours.
“It’s about love, dignity and respect,” said Just Housing member Tye Gundel, 22, adding that if public bathrooms don’t operate 24/7, the homeless are forced to defecate on the street.
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“That affects people downtown, business owners and tourists,” she said, also calling it a “public health concern.”
“It concerns all of us, in my opinion,” Gundel said.
About 20 gathered at the Heritage Park bathrooms Sunday evening and occupied both the men’s and women’s bathrooms, she said. They also were in communication with representatives from DES, who warned the occupiers that they would have to notify the state patrol about 8 p.m. Demonstrators occupied the bathrooms until about 9 p.m., Gundel said.
That was confirmed by DES spokeswoman Linda Kent.
“We’re appreciative of the open dialogue that happened Sunday night,” Kent said, adding that the demonstrators left on their own.
Saturday night’s gathering had taken a different turn.
After hearing a rumor about a gathering at the bathrooms, DES representatives checked into it and left, not realizing that Just Housing showed up later, about 7 p.m. Troopers also showed up to remove the Just Housing demonstrators from the bathrooms.
About 40 gathered Saturday, Gundel said.
Two troopers cleared the women’s bathroom, then found three men in the men’s bathroom who refused to leave. Two men eventually left, while a 37-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of second-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.
Trooper Brooke Bova said demonstrators barricaded the troopers in the bathroom, leading them to call Olympia police and later Thurston County sheriff’s deputies. Gundel estimated the number of law enforcement at 30 officers.
Gundel disputed that troopers were barricaded, saying the troopers closed the door on them as more protesters tried to enter the men’s bathroom.
Just Housing was set to gather again at the bathroom at 6 p.m. Monday.
The need for a public bathroom has been a much-discussed issue for the city, including among City Council members. In October, the council voted 4-3 to move forward with a plan to install a 24-hour restroom at the pocket park around the historic artesian well.
Gundel said she doesn’t think that goes far enough. She’d like to see six bathrooms downtown, she said.