Demonstrators chanting ‘Stop the sweeps’ briefly block traffic in downtown Olympia
A few dozen people marched through downtown Olympia on Tuesday to protest the city’s clearing of homeless camps.
The group gathered at Isthmus Park and marched up Fourth Avenue to City Hall starting at 5:30 p.m., carrying signs and banners that read “Legalize Survival.” Traffic backed up behind the marchers, who were followed by Olympia police.
Some of the marchers spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
In a letter to city officials posted to its website, the advocacy group Just Housing, which helped organize the march, called for the city to stop removing people who are camping on public property and for the city to develop “more just, compassionate, and effective policies” on homeless camps.
Last year, the city stopped enforcing its camping ban in response to a federal court ruling that said cities can’t prosecute people sleeping on public property if they have nowhere else to go.
Since then, Olympia opened a sanctioned homeless camp and paid for shelter expansions. Starting in January, it resumed enforcement, including clearing large camps on B Avenue Northeast and State Avenue Northeast, citing subsequent court rulings.
In recent months, camps under the Fourth Avenue Bridge and along Interstate 5 near Wheeler Avenue Southeast have drawn criticism and calls for the city to clear them.
Advocates say there are still not enough safe, legal places for people in the camps to go and that the city’s actions make things harder for them.