About 20 protesters gathered Monday outside Olympia Federal Savings in downtown Olympia to “shut down” the bank and stop the pending eviction of a homeless resident named Cricket.
Since November, Phillip “Cricket” Jenkins has been living in a makeshift shelter that’s tucked inside a small 12-foot-by-12-foot cove in downtown Olympia. At least six other homeless residents seek refuge in Cricket’s camp located behind New Moon Café and the Olympia Federal Savings parking lot at 421 Capitol Way S.
Flanked by garbage cans, the nondescript structure is covered with blankets and shields people from the elements. Jenkins mans the space and ensures that it remains a refuge for anyone in the street community.
“It’s safe, it’s warm, it’s in town,” said Jenkins, who came to Olympia about two years ago from California. “We all need to be safe out here.”
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However, the camp is on private property that belongs to Olympia Federal Savings. The bank has given Jenkins until 7:30 a.m. Tuesday to vacate the site.
In response, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the bank Monday afternoon while carrying signs that said “Neighbors don’t evict neighbors,” “People deserve to live” and “Eviction is not a solution.” Protesters strung yellow caution tape across the sidewalk and around the bank’s door handles, and at one point, a protester temporarily blocked a customer from leaving the drive-through lane. A few protesters wore face masks.
Olympia police officers were on the scene to allow vendors and customers to enter and exit the bank. No arrests were made.
Tyler Gundel, co-organizer of the Just Housing activist group, said more could have been done on Olympia Federal’s part to find another place for Cricket. She also notes Cricket’s effort to keep people from resorting to camping in the woods — and being vulnerable to sickness or assault.
“This is something we see as being a solution,” Gundel said at Monday’s protest, adding that Just Housing will help find a new place for them to live. “It’s not just about housing Cricket.”
Gundel also said Jenkins must go through a process to find appropriate housing that could take weeks because of his lack of income and rental history.
Olympia Federal Savings issued a statement Monday regarding Jenkins’ urban campsite and the protest by Just Housing. The bank has provided a “reasonable timeframe along with professional support and assistance for finding alternative housing options,” according to the statement, which notes that “all of our suggested options have been met with resistance.”
“While we understand that homelessness is a significant issue facing our downtown community, we cannot have anyone take up residence on our property for many legal, liability, health and safety reasons,” according to the statement. “Letting someone live in a make-shift shelter in our parking lot is not a good enough or an appropriate solution for anyone.”
A staff member at New Moon and a property manager from the adjacent 123 4th Apartments told The Olympian that Jenkins’ camp has not posed a problem. Both properties border the small space that’s owned by Olympia Federal.
Some residents of 123 4th Apartments had complained about the trash on New Moon’s rooftop that could be seen below their apartment windows. The complaints ended after Jenkins led a massive cleanup of the roof, according to Zach Strong of Prime Locations.
Jenkins said nine garbage bags were filled during the rooftop cleanup.
City spokeswoman Kellie Purce Braseth confirmed that Olympia Federal has asked Cricket to leave the premises because he is trespassing on private property.
“If a person refuses to leave, the owner can call on the city for assistance in getting the person to leave,” Braseth told The Olympian. “This is basically the city’s role in this situation. It’s unfortunate that all this is happening.”