Growing problems with homeless population blamed for violence in Olympia

Tensions erupted Saturday night over a decision to close a downtown Olympia park.

But residents said this is a symptom of a much larger problem: the city's refusal to act on its growing homeless population.

The city of Olympia opened the Artesian Commons Park four years ago as a place to buy food and congregate in downtown. But police responded to 1,400 calls of illegal activity at the park. And the decision was made to shut the park down late last month.

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The Artesian Commons Park on 4th Avenue East is so small, a visitor could easily miss it. But people in Olympia know the location because of the artesian well, a well that people here said provides some of the best water in the state.

But once this park was created, it became a haven for illegal activity.

"I've seen fights there," said Becky Dilba, an Olympia resident for four years. "I've seen, I've literally driven by, walked by and seen people doing drugs."

That is how Dilba and others describe what they witnessed inside this small Artesian Commons Park in the heart of downtown Olympia.

"As a taxpayer, as a citizen," Dilba said. "I'm not paying for this."

Indeed, Olympia police said they responded to so many calls about fighting, drug dealing and other illegal activity, the city decided in late August to shut the park down.

Clark Lane stood outside his tent at a homeless encampment just a block and a half away from Artesian Commons Park.

"Well, it's everywhere," Lane said of illegal drug dealing. "You're going to find that everywhere."

He said the decision to close the Artesian Commons has left people who live here without a park to enjoy, too.

"Oh, it's definitely missed," said Lane, who said he moved to Olympia from Alaska.  "And it's actually making people quite angry, yeah."

That anger erupted into violence last night. A fence the city put up to keep people out of the park was torn down. And Olympia police were called in to restore order.

Many people here said this is the result of inaction by the Capital city to address a growing homeless crisis.

Residents said the issue of homelessness is not limited to Seattle.

"It happens everywhere up and down the I-5 corridor," Dilba said. "I mean you go to Vancouver, you go to Portland, Bellingham, Seattle. It's everywhere. And our city leaders need to step up to the plate, need to realize that it's a problem. And they need to address it because they're not."

Even though the park itself is closed, the artesian well is still accessible to anyone who wants free water.

City officials said they tried different activities and approaches but nothing worked here. So the decision was made to close it.

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