Law enforcement officers, including SWAT officers, closed off the road on which sits the Red Lion Hotel and began clearing the hotel floor by floor after employees fled to the basement in fear after activists entered the building, a police spokesperson told The Olympian. Seven people were arrested and officials expected more arrests before the operation was over.
The Olympia Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment. Arrest records from Sunday showed one arrest at or near the hotel.
A group called Oly Housing Now stormed the hotel, trying to get Thurston County to use federal funds to pay for hotel rooms for homeless people over the age of 65.
“FEMA provides counties 100 percent funding for houseless people who are over 65 years old or at high risk of contracting COVID to stay in non-congregate shelter,” the group said in a news release earlier Sunday. “Not only would this save lives by getting people off the streets, but it would also support local businesses by giving hotels money during challenging economic times.”
The city said in a statement that police officers were clearing the hotel “after it was forcibly occupied” by Oly Housing Now.
“Employees of the hotel have been safely escorted out of the occupied hotel after sheltering in the basement through the afternoon and part of the evening,” it added.
Some of the activist group were armed with hatchets, batons, and knives, and they allegedly assaulted one employee, prompting the workers to flee to the basement.
The homeless people were being ejected from the hotel but the city’s Crisis Response Unit was connecting them to services, the city said.
“Making sure our unhoused residents have access to safe and affordable housing has been Olympia’s priority for more than a decade,” said Mayor Cheryl Selby, a so-called progressive, in a statement. “Olympia has led on responding to homelessness, on coordinating shelter and other basic needs. The tactics used today by Oly Housing Now are unproductive and won’t make the mission more attainable.”
Oly Housing Now, which had reserved 17 rooms inside the hotel, called for donations late Sunday. In a Facebook post, it wrote: “If Thurston County doesn’t apply for FEMA funds, it’s because they don’t WANT TO. Please tell them how you feel and bring your generous hearts to us! Funds will be used for food, basic hygiene supplies, and other assorted necessities!”
The group’s organizer was part of a group called Olympia Anarchist Mutual Aid, according to The Olympian. That group helped support the occupation of a motel in Fife last month. That attempt ended when police cleared out dozens of homeless people who were not paying for rooms.
“I want to be clear that what occurred here was a crime, numerous crimes,” Fife Police Chief Pete Fisher said at the time. Fife Mayor Kim Roscoe said the occupation “was illegal and misguided.” No arrests were made because officers deescalated the situation, she added.
Video footage on Sunday showed officers in Olympia, about an hour southwest of Seattle, deploying crowd control munitions both in the hotel and to control an unruly crowd outside the building. The crowd told officers to “choke and die.” One woman told them: “We know where you live. We know where your kids go to school. But we have morals.”