The state Department of Enterprise Services has decided to temporarily close three public bathrooms, including those at Heritage Park, following three days of protests. Five people have been arrested since Saturday night, including four on Monday night, during demonstrations for around-the-clock restroom access in downtown Olympia.
The agency also closed bathrooms at Marathon Park and at the Interpretive Center, which is at the south end of Deschutes Parkway. Portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations have been placed next to the existing bathrooms at Heritage and Marathon parks, according to DES.
“The actions taking place over the last three days create significant risk to the community and those responsible for the care and custody of the Capitol Campus and do not support a productive path to come together and resolve the issue,” said Bob Covington, Department of Enterprise Services’ deputy director, in a statement.
DES officials had asked for a two-week pause to the protests to come up with a solution, but protesters rejected those demands.
Although the bathrooms are only temporarily closed, it wasn’t clear when they might reopen.
“Sooner, rather than later,” said DES spokeswoman Linda Kent on Tuesday.
DES also is looking at other options, including whether a partner might lease the bathrooms during the night and keep them open.
The protests have been organized by a homeless advocacy group called Just Housing. Just Housing member Tye Gundel said she was sad, angry and disheartened by the state’s actions.
“Most of all, it hurts the street community and those dependent on the street,” she said.
She also said Just Housing was set to observe the request to pause the demonstrations for two weeks after one more gathering Tuesday night at Heritage Park. Now, the bathrooms are closed, but they still planned to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday to “mourn” the state’s decision, Gundel said.
“We’re coming together to support those most affected by the state’s decision,” she said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, four people were arrested at the Heritage Park bathrooms Monday night, the third day of demonstrations.
The four, all of whom live in Olympia, were booked into the Thurston County Jail after being arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass, obstructing a law enforcement officer, and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.
The Heritage Park bathrooms normally close at 7 p.m. in winter. About 40 demonstrators gathered at the bathrooms Monday night and some occupied the bathrooms after hours, leading to the arrests.
Washington State Patrol troopers spent about 30 minutes talking to the protesters in the bathrooms to get them to leave and then made their arrests, spokesman Kyle Moore said. About 10 troopers were on the scene, he said.
They also called on Olympia Police for assistance so they could get those arrested to their vehicles from the bathrooms, Moore said. Three pepper balls were fired to disperse the crowd, Olympia police spokeswoman Laura Wohl said.
Moore said one trooper was kicked but not seriously hurt and so was an Olympia officer, Wohl added. The officer was wearing body armor and was not hurt, she said.
The protests began Saturday night, resulting in one arrest that night, followed by a peaceful gathering Sunday.
Following the demonstration at the bathrooms, protesters marched to Olympia City Hall on Sunday and Monday nights, according to a Just Housing news release.