By Amicus Curia, investigatory photojournalist for the Mason County Blog (amicuscuria.com/wordpress) and sometimes Works In Progress (WIP), an Olympia based monthly alternative newspaper. (cc) 3-11-13
[WIP is granted permission to reprint this article provided full attribution accompanies it.]
A Christian faith based organization, the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) adjacent to the Thurston County Food Bank, dedicated to providing charity, medical care, showers, meals, and other essentials to the poor, has clarified its policy of turning away those homeless who participated/slept in the emergency temporary homeless shelter erected by community activists protesting Olympia’s newest anti-‘camping’ ordinance targeting those sleeping on the City’s mean streets. The rumor was confirmed by Pastor Langan when he was contacted the next day for comment/verification.
The story’s genesis began on 1-8-13 when Olympia’s Mayor and City Council heard public comment at its weekly Tuesday evening session while considering an ordinance which criminalized ‘sleeping’ on public property within the city limits pursuant to its anti-‘camping’ ordinance making it illegal to sit, lie, sleep, or carry/possess camping ‘paraphernalia’ such as blankets, tents, tarps, sleeping bags, pillows, etc. The Council chambers was packed to capacity to accommodate the boatload of citizens wishing to speak out against the ordinance during their allotted 3-minutes. Those remarks varied in their rationale and analysis, but all were passionately opposed. Having heard unanimous verbal opposition from the constituents present who spoke out, the City Council proudly demonstrated its independence from those taxpayers by voting unanimously for the ordinance.
On 2-8-13, the City’s newest poverty law took effect. A protest in the form of a ‘sleep-in’ on the steps of City Hall was organized. Staged at the Artesian well, the group of homeless and their advocates marched down 4th Ave. to City Hall where they remained for the rest of the night. (http://amicuscuria.com/wordpress/?p=8764)
Having failed to register their point with a Mayor who openly boasted of managing by crisis on the issue in order to create ‘momentum’ in his remarks leading to the passage of the law criminalizing an entire class of the City’s most vulnerable and least able to defend itself, street activists conceived of a plan to furnish vital services (including food, dry clothing & bedding, shelter against the elements, and a 24/7 mobile toilet) which the City would not in the face of local NGO’s closing their doors to the homeless with springtime imminent despite temperatures still low enough to induce hypothermia in the wet.
Logically enough, the Artesian well–a longtime public gathering point for all of the town’s residents–was selected as the locale where those with no other options could survive the rainy nights and relieve themselves despite the municipal restrooms being locked at night to discourage their use. A temporary emergency homeless shelter was erected by a coalition of the community, amenities to all who needed them were provided, and the newly constructed facility received 24-hour monitoring from responsible citizens.
The Ice Man Cometh
Upon learning of this turn of events, Steve Hall, the City’s Manager, arrived on the scene and threatened those present with arrest if they did not remove themselves and the tent structure from the Artesian well site, a property recently purchased by the City in order to ‘preserve’ it, as noted by the brass plaque in place.
On Sunday (3-3-13), organizers discussed their lack of a force equal to the brute police power of the state threatened by Mr. Hall. Opting for diplomacy and compassion over making a political point…even a just one…they elected to move the structure to the abandoned WA. Fish & Wildlife building site at Washington & B Ave. rather than allow the shelter to be destroyed by the Olympia PD and in order to continue to offer services to the homeless (which by then had reached 22 overnight guests) without costing the City a nickel. They disassembled the structure and reassembled it on the abandoned State property with the realization the State had not enacted an anti-‘camping’ law targeting the homeless similar to Olympia’s.
UGM Eats Its Children
But activists had not counted on a 5th column: UGM had a firm policy denying services to outlaws and scofflaws according to Pastor Tim Langan. This included those homeless who might be now sleeping on the streets in violation of Olympia’s newest anti-poverty ordinance, but especially those seen to be participating/sleeping in the controversial temporary emergency homeless shelter as Pastor Denny Bobbert or UGM staffer ‘Jerome Jaeger’ [which is in dispute] announced to the unfortunates he discovered there. The tent structure was only a block over from the UGM. It wasn’t difficult for Pastor Denny or ‘Jerome Jaeger’ to keep tabs on which homeless took up with their advocates. Some of their peers dropped by to express support and fear they would be refused food if they became so bold as to lie in their comrades’ company there.
One homeless man familiar with the UGM spoke of a routine religious indoctrination session of 15 minutes preceding each meal doled out to the homeless. For this reason, he said, he made it a point to arrive late. Another man of 26 with rotten teeth and a ghastly appearance of poor health, reportedly was banned for life from the UGM for remonstrating articulately with the Pastor once too often. The details of that conversation aren’t known. Perhaps it sprang from the ‘tough love’ approach routinely visited on UGM’s clients lecturing them on their dereliction of duty, self loathing, failure to take responsibility for themselves, and refusal to blame the victim (themselves) for their misfortune.
Pastor Denny demonstrated his ‘loyalty’ to the homeless by calling the Olympia PD out of ‘concern’ over the possibly illegal temporary shelter. (See the photo, ibid, of Pastor Denny conferring with Olympia’s PD Commander Nelson on the day in question.) The Olympia PD, being better schooled in the law’s parameters, called the State Police to notify them of the situation, urging them to remedy it…this despite Mayor Buxbaum’s disingenuous assertion his passing the anti-camping ordinance wasn’t designed to discriminate against the homeless, but to produce a crisis which would create ‘momentum’ toward a negotiation with other government agencies to shoulder their fair share of the financial responsibility to address the growing problem of homelessness. In fact, what was witnessed was cooperation, but not to aid the homeless. The cooperation visibly seen was intended to drive the homeless away from an evolving gated city with a system of municipal apartheid.
Shortly after 5:30pm on 3-5-13, the public was seated in a staff oriented work session involving City Employees and their County contemporaries. The public was invited to be seen, but not heard. Perhaps 20 minutes later, a young homeless advocate burst through the door to announce the State Police were arriving at the temporary emergency homeless shelter to remove it and arrest anyone present @ 6:00pm. A group exodus of concerned citizens followed him to the site to witness a large number of State Police, one WA. Fish & Wildlife officer, assorted State vehicles, and the service of yet another Cease & Desist Notice alerting any present their continued recalcitrance would be treated as criminal trespass.
Among the 7 arrested for criminal trespass were Professor Peter Bohmer, Shane Dillingham (19), Alex Daye, Nathan, Tim (18), Rod Tharp, and ‘Tahoe’. 4 of the 7 arrestees were homeless, 2 were foster children aged out of the system, and 2 were military veterans. All were released from Thurston County Jail the next morning without being fed following their ~6:00pm arrest that evening. Some homeless who did not wish to be arrested stood on the sidewalk watching their friends being taken into custody. One teen admitted he did not know where he was going to spend the night. He had all his possessions in a plastic sack sitting beside him on the sidewalk and on his back as he faced a makeshift police line glowering at community members hazing the cops for their indifference and perverse exercise in ‘protecting the community’. One officer responded to the question of why were they doing this by admitting they were ordered to do so. Another admitted the Olympia PD had contacted them and complained about the shelter.
Jennifer Tobias later called and spoke with a UGM staffer named ‘Skip’. What she got from him was UGM didn’t call the Fish and Wildlife Department to report the encampment. They did, however, call the City Police to ask if they knew what was going on because they were “concerned”. The City Police Department then called them back to ask if they knew who owned the building /lot the temporary shelter was on because they didn’t know if it was still owned by Fish and Wildlife or the Port of Olympia.
Jennifer recounted Skip saying the UGM was telling homeless folks if they were associated with the encampment UGM would withhold any help/services since such participation was an illegal act right there in front of UGM…and UGM “couldn’t support such an act.” Services would only be withheld temporarily until the individual was no longer breaking the law, the rep continued. Ms. Tobias asked how he felt about someone breaking the law out of necessity because the law itself was a “unuust”. Skip characterized civil disobedience as something they [UGM] could not support because what folks were doing was not legal and not “constructive” in his view. He repeated UGM could/would not ‘support such activities’.
Jennifer asked if the UGM was screening all homeless/houseless folks who were coming in for services to make sure none of them were breaking the no sit/no lie and no camping ordinances since they too were breaking the law? Skip conceded her point but argued the UGM did not have the ability to screen folks in such a way nor would they “intrude” into peoples lives this way–their restriction were applied only to those ‘blatantly breaking the law’ right in front of UGM’s noses. Skip ended by opining, “God didn’t make me the public police of Olympia.”
Skip then authorized Jennifer Tobias to quote him online, and Jennifer did the same for this reporter.
What Ms. Tobias heard was fairly consistent w/the interview this reporter had w/pastor Langan, who was (giving the Devil his due) quite candid. What she heard (‘concern’) was also somewhat disingenuous. Pastor Langan’s tone spoke volumes as to his view of the ‘temporary emergency homeless shelter’ 1st erected at the Artesian, then transported to the abandoned State F&W property. His tone was transparently hostile to the tent shelter, and the phrase used to describe it (‘temporary emergency homeless shelter’) was pointedly disparaged by pastor Langan who argued it was an artifice concocted by the Occupy Olympia folks who were using it as a device to advance their political agenda at the expense of the homeless, who he claimed were being used as pawns.
Langan expressed ‘concern’ that the structure and the homeless engaged in supporting it or sleeping in it would be associated in the public’s mind with the UGM, which would, in turn, experience opprobrium from that public or the City itself. While the characterization of the tent shelter being ‘right in front of the UGM’ may have been an exaggeration, the pastor’s argument about unintended consequences isn’t as far fetched given the history of the City in vexing Bread & Roses some years back as it tried to provide hot meals to the poor/homeless in Olympia. Today, that program no longer exists, largely because the City deliberately made it too difficult (through administrative fiat) for B&R to continue the hot meals program. Similar animosity has been met by the soup kitchen in Shelton.
Whether a ‘Christian’ organization who admits it might have turned Rosa Parks away if she’d been homeless and sought their help is one deserving of public support is an issue which must be tried in the court of public opinion. While lucid, the pastor’s argument is weak and evades his all too apparent hostility toward his fellow travelers who don’t subscribe to his brand of charity. He also, like to many others, remains indifferent to the 5,000 # elephant in the room: Charity displacing/substituting for Civil Rights creating a system of apartheid targeting the poor in the bargain.
Finally, the fact some homeless approached the ones sleeping there to express solidarity and fear of not being fed by the UGM at the same time says something. Credit the pastor with being genuine (mostly) instead of weaseling out of moral responsibility for civil rights violations like the Mayor and City Council or its Manager which simultaneously damns him with faint praise.
The white haired Peter Bohmer (who has had at least one hip replacement and a heart attack) marched toward his arrest in support of the dispossessed like a Greek god! Jail is a very dangerous place to be for one with his medical disabilities. He had to post $1,500 bail to be released. Simply watching the tension between idealism and the banality of evil played out in the mean streets of Olympia is…stunning…exhilarating–inspiring! One is left with the feeloing of having been given the opportunity to peek in on 21st century freedom marchers/sleepers. And while watching Pete was like watching your grandmother wrestle an alligator–and WIN!, it is the youthful activists and the unprecedented numbers of young homeless who have the vitality, the physical strength to see this one through. Geezers may have wisdom, but they need too many naps and bathroom breaks.
Anyone…yes ANYONE who has a civic virtuous bone in their body or a soul not yet dead from a lethal diet of TV simply must support these dissidents engaged in civil disobedience against an egregiously unjust law. To do any less is to consign ourselves to the dust bin of history where evil succeeded because good people stood by and did NOTHING! The banality of evil provides no comfort. You could not have picked out most Nazis in a crowd of good Germans in the 3rd Reich. Today, through the miracle of technology, we can reach out, transcending time & distance, to grasp each other’s hand to bridge the gap of ennui and form an impenetrable shield behind which the homeless can enjoy their most precious inalienable right: to be left alone!
Residents Rebuke Oly Mayor, Council 3-5-13 1/3
Amicus Curia, et ux, calls out Olympia’s Mayor and City Council for violation of civil right when passing an ordinance targeting the City’s homeless, virtually criminalizing this entire underclass of people. Part of a public outcry and unanimous condemnation of the City’s poverty laws in their 3-minute limited remarks from the podium, speakers roundly lambasted their elected officials for ignoring community sentiment, for victimizing the most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves, virtually abrogating the fiduciary duties for which they were elected.
Residents Rebuke Oly Mayor, Council 3-5-13 2/3
Residents Rebuke Oly Mayor, Council 3-5-13 3/3
Young Homeless Woman Describes Ordeal in Olympia 3-5-13
A young ‘homeless’ street woman (‘Monica’) objects to the term, preferring ‘houseless’ as she describes the stigma and how too often her peers are treated like ‘rats’ instead of human beings. She pleads for a better life while candidly describing some of the difficulties she has faced.