Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace sets up a homeless shelter at the Artesian Well

“Don’t judge someone else until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”.

I don’t know who originally said that but it is usually sound advice. There will always be some over-the-top people whose shoes are best avoided—but most people are just people.

About half the energy you consume goes to your brain. There are trillions of neurons in each and every brain and each individual neuron has dozens of connections that interact in various ways with the dozens of connections in all the other trillions of neurons and the brain is constantly rewiring itself to adapt to ever-changing conditions—but a lot of stuff is also hardwired into your base-brain while you’re a child, and even while still in the womb, and the point is that everyone’s brains are so incomprehensibly complex that each individual brain is utterly wholly completely unique in the entire universe.

People like to blame homeless people for being homeless. Like all other demographics, homeless people actually represent a wide variety of very diverse world views and conditions. Most of them are just regular folks who had some bad luck. However, as is always the case, the regular folks aren’t the ones that get noticed or noted. Ever since Ronald Reagan emptied the nation’s mental hospitals out onto the streets, a highly disproportionate number of homeless people have serious mental illness and/or substance abuse issues and many of them are truly offensive people to be around. Nowadays there are also large numbers of veterans who fried their brains in service to their country and were then thrown onto the trash heap when the nation was done with them.

So who is the victim and who is the criminal? Some person’s brain-wiring job got discombobulated when he was a little kid or when he was in Iraq and so he is sentenced to live a life of puking in alleys? Is that his ‘fault’? Is it his mother’s ‘fault’? Is it his government’s ‘fault’?

Ultimately, who gives a shit? The guy is a human person and he’s puking in a frigging alley! Before we can figure out why he’s puking in an alley we need to first deal with the immediate problem and see what he needs so he can have at least the dignity of not puking in alleys. As for dealing with the immediate problem, there have been scores of academic peer-reviewed studies done upon the subject of homelessness. Their almost universal conclusion is that putting homeless people into homes is the cheapest and most effective method of dealing with the problem. (Though the studies usually don’t mention it directly, this is also the most humane method of dealing with the problem.) These studies also conclude that the most expensive, least effective (and though they don’t usually mention it directly the least humane method) is to criminalize homeless people and start running them through the jails, giving them a bunch of fines that they will never be able to pay, and otherwise leaving them to defecate in the bank’s flower bed at night if they don’t freeze to death between their repeated and costly stays in jail. All of this information is immediately in the face of anyone who starts researching this issue. It is not a secret. This being the case, can anyone explain to me why nearly every city in the United States chooses the most expensive, least effective, and least humane way to deal with homelessness rather than the cheapest, most effective, and most humane way?

The City of Olympia recently made the mere presence of homeless people on city property a civil offense. Since they didn’t listen when all the experts pleaded and begged and very eloquently and effectively explained in excruciating and lengthy detail why—other than just killing them—criminalizing homelessness was absolutely the worst thing to do. Not one single person spoke in favor of their new laws. (At least no one spoke on the public record).

So we decided to put the question to them in a manner they couldn’t ignore: On March 1 all of the Olympia emergency shelters shut their doors. With their new law it is now illegal for them to be on city property—and it was already illegal for them to be on private property. Therefore, through the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace [OMJP] we set up a large canvas homeless shelter at the Artesian Well directly in their face one block from city hall and in blatant violation of their new ‘law’. We were there from 5 pm Friday March 1 to 3 pm Monday March 4, when City Manager Steve Hall brought us two four-packs of most excellent coffee and said to pack it in or we would be arrested. (Actual homeless people are not usually given this courtesy—but then they usually don’t have lawyers and hundreds of activists at their back like the activists do…)

So we packed it in—only to unpack two hours later in a state-owned parking lot at an abandoned building near the Union Gospel Mission. We stayed there until Tuesday evening when the Washington State Patrol forcefully evicted us. Seven people were arrested when they refused to leave. There are videos online and I have others that soon will be of the police evicting a bunch of people who didn’t have anywhere else to go out into the driving rain—and arresting several of them. I also have a video of Evergreen professor Peter Bohmer getting arrested.

The action was effective, fun, inspiring, and kicked butt. The central organizer was OMJP member Alex Daye. He didn’t sleep all weekend, he spent his own money on pizzas and outhouses, and he was one of the arrestees. Alex’s wife Audrey subsequently gave powerful public testimony to the Olympia City Council only an hour after Alex’s arrest.

The arrestees: Alex Daye, Peter Bohmer, Rod Tharpe, Shane Dillingham, Nathan, Tim, and Tahoe.

The reason you get arrested is so you’ll get in the news and we made the front page on The Olympian for three days and our action was reported on Seattle NPR station KUOW Wednesday morning and all the Seattle papers took note—thus we succeeded in shoving this issue into everyone’s face yet once again.

Dana Walker spent 28 years traveling in North America, 6 years in federal prison (ostensibly for marijuana; in actuality for refusing to sell his friends to the feds), and 3 1/2 years in Olympia hurling verbal barrages of sarcasm at the Machine. He’s currently a Real Change vendor and a caretaker at Media Island. He is also the author of numerous novels and a radical bi-weekly political newsletter .