A group of activists that typically targets landlords and employers has turned its attention to downtown Olympia businesses that contract with a private security company.
Since May, downtown businesses and property owners have contracted with Pacific Coast Security for nightly patrols, coordinated by the Olympia Downtown Alliance.
ODA describes it as a “safety team” similar to the downtown ambassadors employed by the city of Olympia who work during the day.
Olympia Solidarity Network, or OlySol, sent letters to businesses recently saying the patrols target people sleeping in building alcoves, which it called unethical and discriminatory.
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“The repeated displacement of our unhoused neighbors from downtown only serves to further traumatize and endanger a vulnerable population…” the letters say.
Two businesses, Harlequin Productions and Orca Construction/Cooper Realty, got letters demanding they cancel their contracts or face “further action” by the group. Others got letters asking them to cancel their contracts.
Paul Williams, an OlySol member, declined to say why the two businesses were singled out.
“I think they started from a place of threat,” ODA Executive Director Todd Cutts said. “They’re threatening action, (and) it’s undefined what that action is.”
Cutts said the security guards — who are not armed and typically wear ODA polo shirts — ask people sleeping or staying on private property to leave and give them time to gather their things. If the person doesn’t leave, then the guards will call police.
He said he met with security program participants, most of whom are property owners, on Wednesday and there was “firm resolve” to continue with their contracts. (The property manager for The Olympian’s office on Franklin Street Southeast does not currently participate.)
Pacific Coast Security provides security elsewhere downtown, including at City Hall, city-owned parking lots, LOTT’s water treatment plant, and the Timberland Regional Library branch.
OlySol has a history of demanding change from the targets of its campaigns. This spring, it pushed for repairs at the Evergreen Vista Apartments in west Olympia on behalf of the complex’s tenants.
This past week, it organized a march to City Hall demanding the city reopen the Artesian Commons Park and abolish ordinances that prohibit people from sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks and camping on city property.
In a statement, the group said it “uses public pressure campaigns that demonstrate and build community support.”
Barbara Baker owns a building on Capitol Way South where people used to sleep outside, leaving trash and waste that her tenants had to deal with on a daily basis. Since the patrols started, she said, those problems have mostly gone away.
“We don’t really want to be investors in the (patrol) program, but we have to be,” Baker said, suggesting OlySol’s approach will only further divide the community when it comes to responding to homelessness.
David Scherer Water has lived downtown for 18 years and described the area as a “fragile ecosystem” of businesses, residents and visitors. He said he was wary of the patrols when they started, but their presence has been positive.
“It’s not a solution (to homelessness), nothing has been fixed. All we’ve agreed on is that in this little core, you can’t pitch a tent,” he said.