Olympia, WA (7-1-14) — Children, both young and in their 60’s frolicked in the geysers of Olympia’s Fountain park adjacent to the abandoned Capitol Center Building, the tallest non-government high-rise in the City. Boarded up busted lower story windows, graffiti and evidence of the homeless hiding in its shadows to evade municipal scrutiny were abundant in sharp contrast to the lush manicured grass and ebullient crowd enjoying a hot summer afternoon in the fountain’s pleasantly cool water.
Unfortunately, seemingly as suddenly as the abandoned high rise, the fountain unexpectedly shut down and the crowds drifted away. While the geyser park is almost universally loved, there are equal numbers of those who love and hate what some call the “mistake on the lake”. It’s a quintessential example of what’s known as mid-century (20th) architecture–straight spare lines, soaring heights plus massive use of steel and concrete. For all that, it’s last tenant left in 2006. It remains empty and a bit of an eye sore, more for the lack of maintenance that design.
The Capitol Center Building stands empty in the face of an army of homeless residents the City has done its utmost to criminalize by definition–steamrolling the civil rights of an entire underclass. The structure is centrally located near many of the services sorely needed by the destitute, hungry, and homeless–which is precisely why Olympia’s City manager and downtown business owners would vehemently oppose such a proposal. They cannot even tolerate a faith based charity orchestrated by Ben Charles, a native American, feeding the hungry on Thursday evenings in an empty public parking lot downtown.
Many naysayers alleged the homeless are living on the street by preference or, like the soup lines to which Attorney General Ed Meese once referenced, because they are ‘free’. Yet 40% of the homeless have jobs! Never, in living memory within America have so many YOUNG homeless people been seen trying to survive on the streets. The City does it’s best to shutter its streets, lock its public toilets, close its public showers, gate-off its public wooden towers along Water Street’s boardwalk, and make the poor/homeless as unwelcome as possible in an effort to establish a virtual gated city.
The Capitol Center Building has become a testament to the municipal effort to create a hostile environment for the poor through its anti-poverty laws, its refusal to make unused resources available to the homeless, it’s hostility toward organizations who do aid the poor/hungry/homeless, and its insistence on locking every possible venue, including public toilets, in order to deny the homeless access. It’s a prescription for a public health/safety disaster.
The City’s police seemed resigned to what already appears to be a low grade insurrection in the streets. It can only get worse as the City is unable/unwilling to provide basic services to all its residents. Faith based outreach program volunteers try to bridge the gulf, but is it too little too late? The plethora of discarded needles, crimes, car prowls, wanton vandalism, and burglaries indicate a malaise difficult to treat once it takes root in the body politic. What’s worse, increasingly, government is being seen by many not only as irrelevant, but harmful. The darkest hour comes just before the dawn. Let us hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel.