SWAT Team Forcibly Removes Homeless Activists Who Tried to Take over Hotel

A SWAT team and police officers have been forcibly removing homeless activists who tried to take over a hotel in the city of Olympia in Washington.

Campaigners from Oly Housing Now (OHN), a coalition of Olympia residents working to end homelessness, entered the Red Lion Inn & Suites at 621 Capitol Way South, on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, SWAT teams were seen moving through the lobby with at least 30 police vehicles surrounding the hotel as officers worked to clear the building, according to freelance reporter Shauna Sowersby.

In a statement, the Olympia Police Department (OPD) said hotel staff began making 911 calls at around 11 a.m. to report that a group of people were attempting to forcibly take over the hotel.

Breaking: @OlyPD roll up outside the Red Lion Governor hotel in #olympia where homeless advocates had taken over the hotel to demand the city/County apply for #fema $$ to house homeless @KIRONewsdesk #waleg pic.twitter.com/q7DOo296M3

— Hanna Scott (@HannaKIROFM) February 1, 2021

The OPD said it estimated about 45 members of OHN were inside and outside the hotel.

Police said the employees told them they felt under threat from the group, who were allegedly carrying items like hatchets, batons and knives. An employee was apparently assaulted too, the police statement added.

The OPD said staff sheltered in the basement throughout the afternoon and evening. Meanwhile, guests who were staying in about 40 rooms in the hotel sheltered in their rooms. The OPD said that staff have been safely escorted out and officers have been providing a safe place for the guests.

At least 17 rooms had been reserved by OHN before the takeover, and homeless people took up these rooms when the activists entered the hotel, police said. The City's Crisis Response Unit is now connecting these unhoused people to services as they will not be allowed to remain in the hotel, police added.

In a series of tweets, Sowersby said that a passerby shouted in front of the hotel: "In the middle of a pandemic, the blood is in your f****** hands," as police prepared to evict around 20 homeless people.

The freelance journalist also reported a stretcher being brought into the hotel after multiple flash bangs were set off by police and a "large boom was heard" from inside.

She tweeted that State Patrol officers were seen removing signs from the scene which read "stop raids" and "housing is a human right."

"A house less mother and her children are now being forcibly removed from the Red Lion Hotel. Everyone around me is visibly upset," she wrote.

One person was also brought out in handcuffs, Sowersby said, adding: "Cops have moved the line back and are now arresting protestors who have come to support the house less people being evicted from the Red Lion Hotel."

At least 30 police vehicles including undercover cars, two SWAT vans and a mobile command unit are staged behind the Red Lion Hotel. pic.twitter.com/mX3rfIlRxD

— Shauna Sowersby (@Shauna_Sowersby) February 1, 2021

Media outlets have reported that several people have been detained with Kiro7 reporting seven arrests and King8 reporting 12.

Police said in their statement that it "does anticipate there will be some arrests associated with the occupation." The OPD said it is being supported in its efforts to reclaim the hotel by the Thurston County Sherriff's Department and the Washington State Patrol.

In its own press release, OHN said it had taken the Red Lion Hotel for emergency pandemic housing. "It's too cold for people to be sleeping on the streets—especially during a pandemic," the statement read.

The campaign group says it is demanding Thurston County Health Department must apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding. It said: "FEMA provides counties 100% funding for houseless people who are over 65 years old or at high risk of contracting COVID to stay in a non-congregate shelter.

A house less mother and her children are now being forcibly removed from the Red Lion Hotel. Everyone around me is visibly upset. pic.twitter.com/NEqFp0mNfL

— Shauna Sowersby (@Shauna_Sowersby) February 1, 2021

"Not only would this save lives by getting people off the streets, but it would also support local businesses by giving hotels money during challenging economic times. It's a win-win for Olympia and all of Thurston County. Failing to use this money would be irresponsible for both public health and the local economy."

The group also called for the City of Olympia to stop the sweeps and provide the encampments with resources to meet the COVID-19 CDC hygiene recommendations, to use public first responder housing in the form of hotel vouchers to support the houseless community and to increase impact fees on luxury and commercial properties. It also called for Thurston County and the City of Olympia to incentivize housing constructions for people who meet the extremely low-income limit—$26,200 for a family of four.

The campaign group also tweeted that SWAT was falsely claimed there was a hostage situation. "Everyone is here on their own free will, standing up for basic human rights," OHN tweeted.

They threw flash bangs inside and have made 19 arrests so far.

— Rebecca Parson (@RebeccaforWA) February 1, 2021

However, Mayor Cheryl Selby condemned the group's takeover action. She said: "Making sure our unhoused residents have access to safe and affordable housing has been Olympia's priority for more than a decade. Olympia has led on responding to homelessness, on coordinating shelter and other basic needs. The tactics used today by Oly Housing Now are unproductive and won't make the mission more attainable."

Newsweek has contacted OHN and the OPD for comment.