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Why are environmentalists silent about Just Housing?

[BY S. SALMI]

The best-organized direct action in years has thus far not generated any attention on the Envirotalk listserv. That seems telling. Four decades ago direct action was a key tactic on a variety of fronts, ranging from preserving old growth to stopping nuclear power. Alas, today local environmentalists tend to gravitate toward sedate activities such as testifying at public hearings, filing law suits, and enjoying fine wine in comfortable locales.

Tyler Gundel offers a thoughtful policy agenda at a Just Housing rally outside city hall.

To be fair, last winter some Envirotalk commentators tried to rally their colleagues to support a blockade of railroad tracks leading to the Port of Olympia. That was a noble effort but, in all honesty, not nearly as well strategized and executed as the current campaign being waged by the group Just Housing against the city of Olympia.

Recently Just Housing announced that it is setting up the city’s “first designated camping spot” for homeless people in Watershed Park. On Saturday, August 26 a “grand opening” will be held from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (go here for details).


Just Housing’s Facebook page is posting real-time updates about its Watershed Park campaign.


Then, throughout the following week, organizers will provide tours of this location — “both to folks who are interested in living there and to those who wish to see what a designated legal camping spot could look like/why we have chosen this location,” states the Just Housing Facebook page.

Camping in Watershed Park is illegal under the city’s no-camping ordinance — and two campers were evicted last week, according to Just Housing. The group is staging the direct action until Olympia designates one more more alternative camping locations.

“For one year now, we have been advocating for our city to repeal our unjust no-camping ordinance and/or to designate legal camping spots for those who are living unsheltered in our community. Despite these efforts, no steps have been taken by our city’s leaders towards either of these goals. And so, if our leaders will not designate places for people to sleep and shelter themselves safely — we will.”

This is the most audacious — and well-organized — direct action that I’ve seen in Olympia since moving here 30 years ago. The sophistication of the group’s strategy is illustrated by its well-crafted slogan, “legalize survival.” Perhaps even more importantly, Just Housing has displayed admirable staying power in maintaining pressure on Olympia as well as Lacey to provide more support for our homeless neighbors.

Just Housing has taken the wise step of offering a variety of levels for people to support its Watershed Park campaign, depending upon the level of legal risk one wishes to take.

“No Risk: Spread the word, donate food/drinks/supplies. Email/call our city leaders and ask them to repeal the no-camping ordinance and/or designate alternative legal camping locations.

Little to no risk: Hold signs along the road, have a presence at the trailhead

Medium risk: Have a presence at the encampment, be willing to receive a trespass order (this is a warning, not a criminal charge).

Most risk: Have a presence at the encampment, be willing to receive a trespass order and continue to stay and risk being arrested.”

Those who wish to take a tour can do so by going to the Watershed Park trailhead off Henderson Blvd. at the following times: Monday, 11 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.; Tuesday, 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.; Wednesday, 5 p.m.; Thursday, 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.

So why would environmentalists support the port blockade but ignore Just Housing’s watershed campaign? One reason might be environmentalists’ tendency to toward a single-issue focus. Another reason could be that a homeless encampment in a park might elicit a Not In My Back Yard! response.

Those are wild guesses on my part, so I would invite readers to chime in. Should Just Housing’s campaign be championed by local environmentalists? Why or why not?

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2 Comments on Why are environmentalists silent about Just Housing?

  1. I appreciate this article. I have had serious concerns for awhile now about the illegal camping around Olympia. Camping is illegal for many reasons, such as lack of toilets, water, and garbage facilities, and the impact on the environment in general. The idea of camping in a watershed (an area of critical importance to our water supply and local ecosystem) seems especially problematic. In the little park along Eastbay Drive, I’m seeing so much garbage associated with illegal camping.

    That being said, i think there definitely need to be places in the Olympia area where people can camp. Places with toilets, water and garbage pick-up. There needs to be adequate housing and services for all people. Camping in Watershed should not be part of the solution.

    • Yes, homelessness is an issue in our community, as it is across the nation. Who is responsible? Lack of work? Lack of resources? Laziness? Addictions? Is there a solution? More than one? Who is responsible for a solution? The homeless themselves? City officials? Citizens with jobs, money, compassion? I have compiled a list of 25 organizations, churches, businesses and individuals who have (and are) helping the less fortunate in our community. Has any one of them sent a thank you letter? To whom? For what? I hear daily of car prowls, breaking & entering, burglaries, stolen bikes, and more. I am sure my working neighbors are not responsible for these incidents. I also see garbage left where homeless have ‘camped’. At least there is someone responsible for leaving their garbage, but do their camping friends suggest that they clean up after themselves, or do they expect others to clean up after them?

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