Judge allows city of Olympia’s homeless camp to remain open, expand

Less than two weeks after a court order halted the opening of a city-sanctioned homeless camp in downtown Olympia, a judge has ruled the city can once again let people move onto the site.

A city official said Friday the city still has to finish work on the site and expects people can move in early next month. As of Friday, there were about 75 tents on the site and room for up to 34 more tents.

The camp, which the city is calling a “mitigation site,” is on a city-owned parking lot at Olympia Avenue Northeast and Franklin Street Northeast. Plans called for 80 to 120 tents, along with portable restrooms, garbage collection and rules that residents must agree to.

The site is the city’s answer to the hundreds of tents that have appeared in downtown this fall.

This month, four anonymous business owners near the tent site asked a court to stop the camp’s opening. Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon granted their request for a temporary restraining order Dec. 10, the same day the tent site opened.

Those who had already moved in were allowed to stay.

Since then, six more John Does have signed on as plaintiffs, along with Douglas Heay, who owns property next to the site.

The temporary restraining order expired Friday, and the two sides went back to court. This time, plaintiffs were asking for a preliminary injunction, arguing that allowing the tent site to stay and grow would hurt their businesses.

The city’s lawyer, Jeffrey Myers, said it is unsanctioned camps that are causing harm, and that the tent site is meant to help.

“They’re talking about problems that are associated ... with these lawless ad hoc encampments that have sprung up without any supervision, any rules, any sanitation whatsoever throughout downtown Olympia,” Myers said. “They create the public health emergency that the city is trying to address here.”

Dixon seemed to agree and denied the motion for a preliminary injunction.

No attempt was made Friday to name the plaintiffs. In their motion, the business owners said they feared becoming the target of activists if they were named and warned many would dismiss their complaint if they were ordered to reveal their identities.

Also Friday, Dixon allowed a formerly homeless woman to join in the case. Dusty “Phoenix” Wendt — who is suing the city over its treatment of homeless people — told the judge the tent site will provide people like her stability that could help them find permanent housing.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jon Cushman, noted his clients are suing the city, not the homeless.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869

Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.