At least seven people were in custody late Sunday after homeless activists, some reportedly armed with hatchets and knives, “forcibly” occupied the lobby and 17 rooms at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia, Wash, according to officials.
The activists were with a group calling itself Oly Housing Now. They occupied the hotel in an apparent takeover attempt to demand pandemic housing, reports said.
City officials, in a release, said the Olympia Police Department (OPD) received reports that employees felt under threat from the group and at least one employee was allegedly assaulted.
Law enforcement and SWAT teams closed off the nearby roadway and are going through the hotel floor by floor, The Olympian reported. A group of hotel employees, who fled into the basement after activists entered the hotel, were safely removed from the building, authorities said.
Shauna Sowersby, a reporter, tweeted that a loud bang was heard inside the hotel just before 11 p.m. local time. She said flashbangs also went off as officers attempted to clear the building.
A crowd across the street from the hotel was later seen chanting and harassing local law enforcement, according to videos on social media.
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The group on Saturday night purchased one night at the hotel and moved 33 homeless people in, reports said. By mid-day on Sunday, at least 35 members of the group gathered in the lobby and outside the hotel.
OPD later estimated about 45 members of the group inside and outside of the hotel.
Oly Housing Now released a list of demands and planned to stay indefinitely until Thurston County committed funds for permanent housing.
The group wants the county to apply for funding that’s being offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay for “non-congregate” shelter, according to the paper.
Specifically, homeless people who are over 65+ or have pre-existing health conditions, putting them at increased risk during the pandemic.
Around 11 a.m., officials said people inside the Red Lion called 911 to report that a group was attempting to forcibly take over the hotel.
“Employees reported that some members of the activist group inside the hotel were armed with items such as hatchets, batons, knives and had gasmasks, helmets and goggles apparently in preparation for a confrontation,” according to the release.
The city’s crisis response unit is on the scene and will be connecting unhoused people to “services,” officials said. The occupants will not be allowed to remain at the hotel.
“Making sure our unhoused residents have access to safe and affordable housing has been Olympia’s priority for more than a decade,” said Mayor Cheryl Selby. “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.”
The OPD anticipates there will be more arrests associated with the occupation, reports said.
The investigation is ongoing.