UPDATED x2! Breaking News: Occupy Olympia to open street clinic and restrooms
By Marissa Luck
UPDATED JUNE 2 evening
Around 30 activists gathered in the parking lot of the old DOP building for the first day of the Occupy Olympia street clinic and 24-hour bathroom service.
The set up is rather simple. A single gray Honey Bucket is tucked against the bright blue building with a small sign with the words “the first and only 24-hour bathroom” scribbled on it (in reality, it’s not the first but it is the only). An old school bus with fading blue paint is parked to the side, serving food from a mobile kitchen. And a large white tent sits besides the sidewalk with a red first-aide cross posted it on it and a sign reading “Olympia United for Community Health.” Between it all, activists mill about, talking with one another, planning, sipping Turkish coffee, and strumming guitars.
On Saturday there was noticeably few homeless or non-Occupy people at the opening event.The low turnout was partially due to fact that there were several other major events happening in town on Saturday (including another Occupy-related event of a “cash mob”at Olympia Supply Company). But Occupiers also did not widely publicize the Med Shed because they were worried it would give police and state troopers time to develop a contingency plan for removing it. So far there’s little sign of police or state troopers. That may change come Monday when OSPI office workers begin using the parking lot again. Activists say they aren’t sure of how long they’ll stay in the parking lot.
“It could be two weeks or two months,” one Occupier joked nonchalantly.
“Our next step is to put together a structure in writing and get support from other local groups, agencies, and churches,” explained Monte Katzenberger of Occupy. He said they need to develop a list of volunteers to rotate shifts for maintaining the Med Shed. Occupiers have already sent a letter to Governor Gregoire arguing that the building, while being “surplus to the needs of the state,” is “not a surplus to the needs of our community.”
“Eventually the goal is to be able to use the building,” Katzenberger said, squinting in the sun in the old DOP parking lot. He hoped the state would turn the building over to the City of Olympia so that the city would use it for providing social services or “maybe it could be like the Smith Building”. That’s another vacant government building downtown which the city plans on giving to a local nonprofit for transitional housing and an emergency shelter.
UPDATED JUNE 2 at 12pm
Occupy Olympia is setting up their street clinic and restroom near the old Department of Personnel building on 600 Franklin St. The building was vacated last year when the department merged with four other state agencies into the new Department of Enterprise Services. Identified as “a surplus to the need of the state,” the building was listed for sale at $2.85 million in January.
“The DOP building may be a surplus to the needs of the state but it is not a surplus to the needs of this community,” argued one Occupier who wished to remain anonymous. Today Occupiers plan on celebrating the first day of the street clinic and public restroom with music and a mobile street kitchen made from an old school bus.
Although a few interested parties toured the DOP building early on, Jim Erskine of DES said no formal proposals for use of the building have been submitted to the state.(In a letter to DES in March 2011, the City of Olympia expressed some interest in the DOP building but later withdrew their inquiry.)
Once a Sears department store, the building was purchased by the state in 1983. Though it remains vacant, the parking lot is being leased by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
June 1, 2012 original breaking news story:
After months of quiet organizing, Occupy Olympia is planning a new kind of Occupation: a 24-hour street clinic and public restroom. This Saturday, Occupiers will erect an “Olympia Med Shed” at an undisclosed location. Activists did not want the location published due to fears that police or state troopers will develop a contingency plan for stopping the clinic. The exact location will be announced tomorrow morning on Occupy Olympia’s website.
The Med Shed will serve as a street clinic similar to the first aide tent from the Occupy Olympia encampment last year. Activists say they’re responding to a need for free and affordable health care in Olympia.
Alex Daye of Occupy Olympia said they plan on maintaining the Med Shed until “the city or state finds a solution for providing affordable health care” for the homeless and low-income people in Olympia. Daye says he doesn’t know whether the Med Shed will turn into a full-fledged occupation but says it is possible.
Occupiers have also arranged for port-a-potties to be available on site to provide “Olympia’s only 24-hour bathroom.” The lack of a 24-hour public restroom downtown has been a heated issue among homeless advocates and Occupiers. Last fall the state temporarily opened the Heritage Park bathrooms for 24-hour use during the Occupy encampment but closed them when the camp was evicted.
Previous attempts to maintain a 24-hour public restroom have been unsuccessful. Cathie Butler, Communications Manager for the City of Olympia, said the city has tried leaving some public bathrooms open 24-hours in the past but closed them when they were vandalized and used as place for drug-abuse.
Members of Occupy Olympia say they’ll continue organizing for needs of the homeless in Olympia starting with the new street clinic.
Look for updates on the Occupy Olympia street clinic throughout the weekend from Olympia Power and Light. Marissa will be tweeting live from the street clinic @marissaluck7.