7 taken into custody during Olympia hotel sweep of group demanding pandemic housing

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Seven people were taken into custody on Sunday as law enforcement rushed in and swept the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Olympia filled with a group who attempted to seek pandemic housing in an apparent takeover.

Homeless activists with a group called Oly Housing Now occupied the hotel after advocates booked 17 rooms and demanded Sunday that Thurston County continue to pay for the room with Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.

The group said they paid for one night in the rooms and moved 33 homeless people in and had plans to stay indefinitely.

“We’re just ready to stand our ground. We don’t mean any harm. We actually want this hotel to get business,” said Emma Veite with Oly Housing Now. “So they’re going to get the FEMA funds. And the rooms are going to be occupied by people who need them. So it’s a win-win. The funds are there; the county just has to apply for it.”

At about 11 a.m. Sunday, police said they started receiving calls from hotel employees who said a “mob of people wearing black” with batons and knives had entered the lobby and demanded them to open rooms.

One employee was assaulted while trying to stop part of the mob from entering the lobby while about seven to eight other employees hid in a basement room, police said.

After authorities got a search warrant, police, along with multiple other agencies, entered the hotel to free the trapped employees who remained in the hotel for more than six hours.

After police started sweeping the hotel rooms of the homeless activists’ group, officials released a statement and said employees reported that some members of the group were armed with hatchets, batons, knives and had gas masks, helmets and goggles; the group also appeared to be in preparation for a confrontation.

Oly Housing Now sent out a release earlier Sunday and demanded:

  • Thurston County Health Department must apply for FEMA funding and use it for COVID-19 prevention sites and non-congregate shelter for people who are 65 and older or who have preexisting health conditions.
  • The city of Olympia must stop the sweeps and provide the encampments with resources to meet the COVID-19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hygiene recommendations, including overflow sites, isolation sites, protective housing, sanitation services, hygiene materials and 24-hour restroom facilities.
  • The city of Olympia must use public first responder/public safety emergency housing in the form of hotel vouchers to support the houseless community in Olympia.
  • The city of Olympia must increase impact fees on luxury and commercial properties in Olympia’s downtown.
  • Thurston County and the city of Olympia must incentivize housing construction for people who meet the extremely low-income limit ($26,200 for a family of four).

Seven people were taken into custody for various crimes, such as burglary and trespassing. The authorities said they are expecting to make more arrests.