Bread and Roses: A model for downtown

This letter was written to the Olympia City Council by Rob Richards of Bread and Roses, in response to last night's decision to ban all activities and objects, except walking, from the downtown sidewalks.


Last night's council meeting was disappointing to say the least. I simply do not understand the logic of the amendments, and I have spent hours trying, I have lost sleep over this, I have research and soul-searched and really stepped back and approached this from all sides. One of the louder arguments is that this targets a certain population. The answer to that has been that this is about behaviors not people. Let's look at what this ordinance, even if it doesn't target anyone, does to address the behaviors in question. Instead of these behaviors happening against the side of a building, they'll happen six feet over. Aggressive panhandling has always been illegal (though the Olympian doesn't recognize this), drug dealing and assault have always been illegal. People should call the police if these things occur. What do these amendments really do to change people's behaviors?

You all know that I work at Bread & Roses, I'm the coordinator of the Advocacy Center (BRAC) on 4th Ave. When illegal behavior happens on our property, we call the police. If someone is a known drug dealer and isn't utilizing our services to better their situation, we ask them to leave and not come back until they are ready to take steps to change. We do not appreciate anti-social behavior either. We combat that at the advocacy center by building a strong community, that includes our guests and interns from TESC and SPSCC and our staff. As you accept people into a community they begin to take ownership of that community, this is incredibly empowering. One example at BRAC is clean-up. When Mike Holzinger and I took over the advocacy center we decided to radically change the way we relate to our guests (we call the people we serve guests as opposed to clients) by including them in every aspect of the center. What we have now, after just six months is two clean-ups every day, initiated by guests, one before lunch and one before closing. The staff and interns who work very hard advocating for people now have some of the weight off of their shoulders. We frequently receive calls from people who want to volunteer, a lot of them want to serve food (you'd be surprised how many people in the community still think we're a soup kitchen on Cherry St.), we used to send them to Salvation Army to work in the Community Kitchen. Now, we explain what it is that we do and that we'd love for them to come down and spend some time at the center. A vast majority of the time, after being given the tour and seeing BRAC in action, they are stoked to spend more time with us. After just a few weeks, volunteers start getting to know guests and hearing their stories and you can almost visibly see stereotypes being shattered for them, it's in their body language, their spoken language, and in their eyes.

This, in my opinion, is a model of downtown. Or at least a model of the way these downtown issues should be approached. Last week's public hearing was powerful, no doubt about it. There's one thing about it that sticks out for me, sort of an intrusive thought that keeps popping up in my mind. There was one common theme in the words of every person who spoke from the street community. That theme was: we have been a part of this community for a long time, we want to be a part of this community, we want to give back to our community, please don't push us aside. At BRAC, people didn't start cleaning because we asked them to, they started because they wanted to give back to a community that accepted them. It's kind of funny, but it seems that the poorer someone is, the more heart and soul they put into their lives and their relationships with people. Downtown does have issues, there are divides in our community that have created a "battle zone" in the heart of our city. We do not not need more laws to fix these divides. We do not need more police presence. We need a radical approach, a grassroots community building effort. In my experience, if people are given a space in which to learn just a little about someone they either know nothing about or have certain stereotypes about, it can destroy perceptions quickly and completely.

Laura, while I appreciate the friendly amendments that you made last night, I consider them a spoonful of sugar. They do nothing in my mind to address the illogical nature of the overall amendments. I appreciate the sunset clause most of all, because it gives me a tool with which to do away with this ordinance (I'll have to see if Terry will make me a toolbox), and I will spend the next year working to collect data in order to do just that. That does not mean I'm choosing sides, it means that I'm sticking to my principles. I look forward to working with you in a unified manner on the HSRC over this next year, I think changes need to made to the process and that you and I should communicate more than we have.

I want to return to my original query: What do these amendments actually, physically do about the behaviors in question? I wish someone would honestly and logically answer that question for me, because it hasn't been answered.

Politically, to me, this was an unwise decision because when summer comes and not only are the townies (housed and houseless) out and about more, but add to that the transient population (people that every summer stop in Olympia on their way around the country), people are going to hound you again about behaviors downtown. People may not have trouble walking down the sidewalks, but they'll still be walking past the same "anti-social" people. This could go one of two ways, you all could very well be demonized by the general public for failing to do anything about downtown, a complaint I think that lead to Doug's proposed ordinances in the first place. Or, people are going to call for tougher ordinances, as TJ pointed out last night. Unfortunately, I think the latter will happen. I also believe that in order to save face and gain some political capital, this council will push for those tougher laws.

How is it possible for this law to be enforced? The police, last year, were tasked with enforcing the smoking ban. I haven't spoken to a single person ticketed for smoking in a restricted area, housed or houseless. Are we going to instruct our police to emphasize this new law over others? If we do that, how will we ensure that the equal enforcement that we talked about at the General Government meetings in October actually happens? Was equal enforcement merely added to the list so that I would shut up? I hate to think that would be the case, I don't think it is, but at the same time I'm not sure what to think at this point. I haven't heard any real conversation on this issue. I've heard that training will be conducted for the OPD. I've been through and conducted many training sessions, from my time in the Navy to my time at B&R. Training doesn't work without maintenance. How we going to ensure that the training works and the officers are not targeting certain people? Is there any way to ensure they won't? If we can't think of a way, then this ordinance doesn't work, and needs to be repealed.

In conclusion, there are a number of people in this community who simply want the best for our beloved city. We need to focus more on one another, and empower and inspire one another to be a part of the greatness that only together can be achieved.

Thank you for listening,

Rob Richards
Proud (but concerned) Olympian


Where is the farmer?

Many times I’ll be hanging around with Kelso LaBrea. Kelso is many things, but in his heart he is an urban farmer. He believes that most anyone can grow for themselves a good deal of the produce they should be consuming. Doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment or on five acres. Seems to me that many that live on five acres rarely, if ever, grow their own food, the five acres are for “privacy”. Now privacy is a fine thing, but who the hell needs five acres for “privacy”, exactly what are they doing on those five acres?

The conversation will usually end up somewhere around the Farmer’s Market. We both agree that the Olympia Farmer’s Market is perhaps the best farmer’s market in the northwest, no question about it. We also agree that is really isn’t truly a farmer’s market. The sales of produce and products from the farm is very limited. The prices are way high, probably due in part to the high rents charged the sellers. You will see very few low income people there and low income people are the tell tale sign that you are at a real farmer’s market.

Low income people, especially low income people from other countries, know what a farmer’s market is about. A farmer’s market is about dealing directly with the farmer. The person that grows the produce is the one that sells it to you. The farmer makes a good profit, you get to make a friend of the farmer, and you have a very fair price on the produce you need.

So Kelso and I talk about what it would take to have a real farmer’s market in Olympia, not the chamber of commerce affair that poses as a farmer’s market. What you need is a place where a bunch of trucks can park and people can mingle amongst the produce. We need farmers that have produce they want to sell. We need farmers to be in direct contact with the consumers and without the oppressive rents charged by the Olympia Farmer’s Market.

Until a critical mass of farmers can be built up, Kelso proposes that we contract with the Coop to have the new farmer’s market buy organic products through the Coop at wholesale and sell the products at near wholesale prices at the new farmer’s market. We also work towards educating the public about growing their own produce, possibly for sale at the market as well. Personally I could kill for some really top quality scallions. There was a time I could buy these off a truck from a Japanese farmer in Puyallup. A person could put in a couple of rows of scallions in their back yard, enjoy working with the earth, make some friends at the farmer’s market, and be part of a process that really builds community. And I could get the beautiful scallions I crave.

The new farmer’s market would in essence be a co-op. I’d imagine we could enlist the parking lot of a local church, close to downtown, to provide the space for the trucks and shoppers. We would like to see the new farmer’s market be mostly about farm products. We have nothing against the other things that end up being sold at a farmer’s market, but a farmer’s market has to be about the produce, and about the people.

Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that fact that we have something as wonderful as the Olympia Farmer’s Market. It is always a pleasure to go there, no matter the weather. The music, the people, it is all terrific. I don’t have a lot of money but even on my meager funds I can extend my enjoyment there with a few wise purchases. I remember the original Olympia Farmer’s Market. It was about the produce. A dozen or so stalls under a tent. I would get my wonderful scallions there, and the most amazing yellow Finn potatoes. I still dream about those potatoes. You can find them from time to time, but I assure you that they are not the same as I got at the old Olympia Farmer’s Market. Olympia Farmer’s Market, admit it, you have gotten too big and you have lost your way. You are having fun and you are successful doing what you are doing, but it might be time to take “Farmer’s” out of your name. If Kelso and I have our way, that is exactly what you should do.


Why Lacey Is Not A Role Model For Its Neighbors

In their November 6th issue, editors of The Olympian proclaimed that Lacey was a “role model for its neighbors” because of the city’s rapid growth in retail sales through “enticing business patrons.” In particular, the editorial compared Lacey’s economic growth to that of Olympia’s – where retails sales dropped. The reason for Lacey’s increase in sales growth was its business friendly environment, while one of the reasons for Olympia sales decline was its “crisis of public safety” (as one Olympian put it before the city council) in its downtown. Before everyone else follows the lead of editorial board of The Olympian, and jumps on the “Lacey model” for economic growth, it is important to asks some important questions: Is The Olympian’s analysis of the situation accurate? Specifically, is there really a “public safety crisis” in downtown, and is Lacey’s formula for economic growth sustainable?

First: the public safety question. Despite all the rhetoric about the dangers of Olympia, comparatively speaking Olympia has a very low violent crime rate. According to FBI figures for 2004, Olympia experienced 333 violent crimes per every 100,000 persons. This is low for both state and national figures. For Washington State the average is 461 violent crimes per every 100,000 persons, and for the nation it is 596 per every 100,000 persons. The figures become even more interesting when Olympia is compared to its neighbor Lacey for the past few years. In 2003, Olympia had a higher rate of violent crime than Lacey. (Olympia was at 3.3% while Lacey was at 2.8%). But, a shift occurred in the following years. Olympia had 145 acts of violent crime in 2003, by 2005 that figure had dropped to 115 violent crimes. While Lacey’s violent crime rate jumped in 2004 (to 3.3%), and in 2005 remained higher than Olympia’s. Olympia had 258 violent crimes per every 100,000 persons, while Lacey had 272 violent crimes per every 100,000 persons. What this means is that for that last few years violent crimes has been going down in Olympia, which is counter to national trends, while Lacey’s rate has moved up.

Read more:

This evidence makes clear that the so-called “public safety crisis” is a delusion. Its remains alive and is seriously debated only because of an intense class-bias against the poor and homeless. People with this bias automatically assume that if the homeless or street vagabonds are hanging out together then they must be “up to no good,” or if a person is engaging in anti-social behavior in the downtown, then that person must be homeless. A perfect example of this is the complaint of public urination in the downtown. Often times the discussion makes references to Olympia’s homeless with the assumption being that they are the ones doing the act. However, the Olympia Police Department has acknowledged that the majority of cases of public urination in the downtown involve late night bar patrons who don’t tend to be homeless.

Second: the economic question. The editorial in The Olympian attributes Lacey’s recent economic success to it ability to attract major corporate enterprises such as Home Depot and Costco with its “business-friendly environment.” In this, the editors for The Olympian are accurate, but also a bit misleading. First off, it is unfair to economically compare Olympia and Lacey in the manner that was done in the editorial and it construes important economic truism. Lacey is a very young city – especially compared to Olympia. It has only been incorporated since 1966, and that’s important but it means that Olympia and Lacey have two very different economic infrastructures. Lacey is very underdeveloped compared to Olympia. Rapid economic growth through corporate enterprises is possible in underdeveloped areas because you are starting from nothing. Olympia on the other hand has built itself off of industries and businesses that have survived for decades. Allowing major corporate enterprises to move could seriously disrupt these foundations – which, for Olympia, would be locally owned businesses that are mostly located in the downtown core.

There is also the issue of how large corporation enterprises tend to depress the economies they enter over time. An essential part of any development plan is the ability to build off of previous gains. This is difficult to do in a corporate friendly atmosphere. Dollars spent at Home Depot and Costco vanish from circulation in the local economy. The ability of corporations to under-cut prices and offer more services ends-up destroying small independent businesses. The low pay and lack of job security for people who work at these business stagnates the economy because they only make enough money to cover their basic necessities - not to mention the hardship and cruelty of poverty itself. In the end, this corporate friendly environment is not sustainable; it leads to economic growth, but not necessarily to economic development.

Perhaps the biggest and most important lost in this corporate friendly environment is that of civic virtue. The re-organizing of city life - with the elimination of public spaces, the arts, and recreation, essentially transforming the city into one big mall – also change its people. Soon, people start identifying more as consumers, managers, and workers, than as citizens. Civic participation and social life ends-up taking a back seat to corporate controlled markets. People become more concerned with shopping than they do with voting - and even less so with political organizing. Ironically, this atmosphere of isolation and rabid materialism become a breeding ground for the anti-social behavior that the editors of The Olympian claim is preventing people from shopping in downtown Olympia.

The editors were right that Lacey’s neighbors do have a lot to learn from the city, but it’s what not to do. This of course doesn’t mean that Olympia is “good” and Lacey is “bad.” Both of the cities have their problems, and both have people who are working for greater democracy inside of them. What this does mean is that if either city is to move forward in a manner that supports all its citizens then it must craft policies with a focus on social and economic justice. If not, then “lost sales” will be the less of either city’s hardships in their (maybe not so distant) futures.


The Wild Rumpus

For the last year, I have been meeting with a group of parents and children at the Olympia Free School. We've been calling ourselves the Free School Family Network, and we are all people who share an interest in non-coercive, multi-generational, natural learning in community. Many of us have already pulled our kids from school, some are investigating the idea of homeschooling/unschooling, and others are just interested in free, fun, educational activities with their kids. The group is supported by a few committed young adults who don't have kids, and a few whose kids are older, who help keep a lot of the stuff rolling, as us parents of littles busy ourselves with the exhausting life of parenting young children.
We have a few regularly scheduled events, but so far only two or three families show up to any given event.
Recently, I was a guest on a local radio program. This thrilled my six-year-old. She informed me that she would like to have a radio program of her own, a kid's radio show. I asked a few people I knew who have radio shows if they might like to help her do this, and mentioned it at a Free School Family Network meeting.
Before I knew it, the idea had taken flight, and we had plans to have a percussion instrument-making workshop, a music recording day with local musicians, and finally a day when the kids would seize control of a local radio station for two hours to spin their own tunes, show off their original music, and experience real radio DJing.
Yesterday, we parked and started walking towards the Free School for the music recording session. I didn't know what to expect. On the way, I wondered grown-uply things such as if original music by children was such a good idea, and whether or not the event would be a "success".
The wild rumpus could be heard from a block away.
Much to my surprise, there were probably a dozen or so youngsters, and as many adults filling the front room, armed with real, honest-to-goodness, serious instruments. Banjo, keyboard, fiddle, a variety of accoustic and electric guitars, recorders, a drum kit, and some guitarish instrument that I don't know the name of made from a cigar box. The front room was in exuberant chaos. Discovery and creation cluttered every corner, making a great noise that could give most noise bands a run for their money. It reminded me of the scene of Who Christmas morning in The Grinch Stole Christmas.
I kept thinking of the psalm, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises...Let the sea roar and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy..."
In the back room was the recording studio, where the mood was much different. Every kid in there was under ten. For more than two hours, serious work took place in that room, the likes of which is scarcely (if ever) seen in the institutions we charge with educating our young. There was a clear awareness on the part of the children that what was going on was serious work, not just the pretend stuff that children are normally permitted to do. They worked with unusual focus, negotiating who did what, even as they discovered what different "tracks" are, and how difficult it is to master an instrument, even for a simple melody.
Typical band dynamics ensued: Dreams of stardom contrasted with deep fears of performing. Egos competed. Resentments festered. Visions diverged. But in the end, 5 tracks were recorded. (It is a miracle that any record is ever recorded, any play ever performed, any film ever screened.)
When we left, my daughter's face was flushed and eyes shining like the true creator she is.
What might happen if we always allowed children to do important adult things when they asked to? To handle the precious equipment that we normally keep far out of their reach? To learn from experts on every subject that interested them, instead of shipping them off to experts on primary education? To master adult skills as they felt prepared to, instead of insisting that everything that matters to us is far beyond their capacity?
I imagine that what would happen would be, like yesterday, part wild rumpus, part joyful noise, part revolution, and it would uproot all of our notions about who children are and what they are capable of.


The Space on State

Every so often I find something that surprises me in Olympia. I have thought that I would long be past being surprised, but that is not the case in Olympia. A couple of weeks ago I stuffed a flyer in my pocket. I figured I’d read it later, wasn’t even sure why I picked it up in the first place but I examined it while going though my coat pocket. It was a flyer for something called Space on State. I figured it was for some self storage place, like Shurgard or the Stuffit Inn. Turns out is was nothing like a self storage place.

From their own flier they describe it as “work, hobby & creative space”. Well, I had to read on.

“Welcome to Space on State, we provide space for your creative needs! Whether you’re a small business, artist or a hobbyist we can provide affordable, safe, private workspace. Rates starting at $95.00 a month.”

Indeed, the spaces are small, on the second floor at 112 NE State. The rooms are all private, they have locking doors (with transoms that actually open and let in air and light) and windows. The rooms seem to run around 100 square feet, or 10x10. I took a tour of the facilities with a friend, Claybourn Saticoy, and we were very impressed. Just the right combination of funk and professionalism. Most of the spaces were rented out already, some to therapy professionals and a variety of other organizations. And get this, they allow you to bring pets to the office with you. They also let you paint your office anyway you like so long as you return it to the landlord white when you vacate the premises.

A whole lot to like, it is hard to know where to start. For sure you can not live on the premises, but they are open 24/7. You can’t use the space as a retail space mostly because the building is controlled entry. I suspect you could use the tiny space as a show room and conduct retail business, but not in a traditional sense. The spaces are very wonderful, no great views, but you get a good feeling being there. There is bathroom and kitchen space available. Oh, the utilities are included and there is free wifi. You can install your own phone line if you desire.

Claybourn really liked the place and is ready to rent a space, the deposit requirements are minimal and even he can afford it on his SSI. Why would he want such a space? He says that he gets to be in the heart of Olympia and he wants to have his private library there. He can listen to his jazz music read the books he always wanted to read and right outside his door is all of Olympia. $100 a month is not bad for this and I agree. No telling what will go on in his space. I imagine him setting up some salon for jazz lovers with discussions and music going on late into the night. Coffee and tea flowing along with the strains Art Tatum in the background. Perhaps his buddy Roachie Woods will drop by with his old blind dog and play a little sax into the streets below. I envy Claybourn, he has almost nothing and yet he seems to have everything.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t have my own take on this. First of all I think what the owner of the property is just amazing to provide this affordable and very attractive space. The place must be a bee hive of activity during the day and no telling what is being hatched there. But I have to use Space on State as a starting point. Would it be possible to provide housing for the poor using this model? Sure you’d need real bathroom facilities, no doubt shared, and ditto for the kitchen facilities, but let’s say a 100 square foot room for $100 a month, with little or no deposit to get in. We’re talking little over 3 bucks a day for a place to live in the heart of Olympia. Sure it is no palace, but it is clean and warm, and more to the point, one’s own. Something like this could be very empowering and within the reach of the homeless. For sure something that could be incorporated into an Urban Layers model. The fellow that owns Space on State is making a buck. He’s not making a killing, but he is making a buck.

Space on State has a website, www.spaceonstate.com It seems to be borked right now but I’ve seen it up and running. Plenty more details there. Please don’t consider this as a spam for a commercial venture, no question I like what is being done there, but mostly I like to think how this concept can really help with far more serious problems.


Veteran's Day

I wanted to make a Veteran's Day Post, but I never know what to say. Its not exactly a happy-wishing holiday. And while I know I am supposed to thank those who have fought and died for me, to me it feels rather like thanking the legions of slaves who made this country rich with their toil, or the many Native Americans who were slaughtered and relocated to make room for this town, and others. Afterall, without their sacrifice, there wouldn't be an America as we know it. Still somehow thanks seems innappropriate. Maybe anger is the more honorable reaction.

My site meter has been running neck and neck with the American death toll in Iraq for quite sometime. I kept thinking every week was going to be the week when this site had seen more visitors than dead soldiers, but that week still has not come. Every week there is another battle, another roadside bomb, another stupid massacre and the numbers of soldiers who have died there for nothing climbs greater still. It seems the traffic on my little blog cannot keep pace with war's appetite for young blood. How could I thank these people?

Some just say it was for freedom, cause that feels right. Has a ring to it. Its so hard to say the truth- that they are dying for senseless, greedy politics. It sounds more respectful to call it freedom, though really we all know that lies are no way to honor the dead.

Maybe I should call Jeff. I saw him in a bar one night two years ago. I thought he was home for the holidays from college in Santa Barbara. Someone told me he'd just come back from deployment. I bought him a drink. There was so little to say. We slurped bourbons and I asked him questions and listened to him talk.
He looked old. His face was so much heavier than it was in high school when we used to share cigarettes outside concerts. We met when he gave me a quarter to play a song on the harmonica. He'd do hat tricks and run up alley walls like Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain.
He told me how stupid it all was, and how grateful he was to be home in one piece. It was hard to believe, he said. When he said this he would look around quickly as if he couldn't shake the danger, though he knew he should be glad now. It was so hard to see him this way. I apologized for asking too many questions. "Its ok," he said. "Its good to talk about it. No one wants to hear how it really is, they just want to think what they want to think..." That is the price that surviving soldiers pay for our illusion of "freedom".

Maybe I should call my uncle, the career Marine. I know he would be happy to call the war a freedom fight. When he returned we gave him a party with a red, white, and blue sheet cake. He was proud to tell heroic stories, and showed pictures of himself giving out candy and smokes to local kids, who were happy to pose for a picture in exchange.
But I can read between the lines. I remember him condemning the prospective war in Iraq over Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago. He called it ridiculous, and said it was clearly about oil-and everyone in the military knows it, he said. After the war began, we weren't allowed to talk about that anymore. After all, he had a job to do. We shouldn't trouble him with the truth, even though he already knew it.
Soon, silence gave way to outright lies. People in the family started making Saddam Hussein jokes and talking about how grateful they are to the President for keeping us free.
I wonder if Uncle Will felt caught in that. Anyway, if he did, he didn't let on. He stayed proud, even volunteering for redeployment. Now he's had some old injuries giving him a hard time, so he's asked to be discharged.

I could call any one of the veterans I know, but somehow it doesn't feel quite right. I don't want to obligate them to be happy, nor do I want to burden them with my gratitude. The only thing I really want to wish them is peace. Peace this Veteran's Day. Peace to all those who have died. Peace to those who survive. Peace now and forever. That is my prayer.


You are only high up if you are looking down

Beverly Rampart and I are sitting in Batdorf and Bronson’s having a coffee and a heated agreement. Most people I know have heated arguments or heated discussions, but in the case of Beverly it is always a heated agreement, at least it is for me. The subject rolls around to bookstores, though it is hard to ever tell where one of these conversations will wander and where it will end up, or if it even will end up somewhere. Maybe it will just dangle to be picked up at a later date with pretty much the same results, unpredictable and always satisfying, unlike the new higher prices for the coffee at B&B, I guess they lost some business from smokers and loiterers so they have to make up the difference somewhere.

So on the subject of bookstores we naturally gravitate towards Last Word Books. Really there is no other bookstore, at least not in Olympia. Orca is, how can I say it, on its way to being soulless. Orca can dangle all the icons of Olympia before us, but they lack a certain conviction we like in a bookstore. Browser’s has its points especially if you like fiction. Don’t get me started on the big box bookstores, we don’t even want to go there, especially since this isn’t about bookstores at all, but I digress. Last Word is like being in my own living room. The people that run and frequent it are people I’d want to have in my own living room. The books, really all of them, if I had the room, would be in my living room. That is what I call a bookstore.

Beverly violently agrees with me. She has known nothing like Last Word since she left the gopher state. Tell me more, I asked Beverly as she sipped her newly overpriced coffee. She leans back and knows we are going to have yet another violent agreement. Arise bookstore, in the holey land, is very much like Last Word. Nothing I said about Last Word could not be applied to Arise. Beverly loved it, her son loved it, the people that camped on Arise’s roof in tents in the summer loved it. Now that was hitting below the belt. But that is Beverly, she pulls no punches in these heated agreements. A blow so stealthy, I hardly noticed it until I was reeling.

So this is finally the point of this article. Camping on the roof tops of bookstores in the summer. I looked outside the window of B&B and noticed all the vacant rooftops across the streets. Acre after acre of usable space where people would not have to sleep in the proverbial gutters of Olympia. It seems that the homeless were invited to camp upon the rooftop of Arise books in the summer. And why not? Didn’t hurt anyone. The owners encouraged it. So why not use this incredible and underutilized resource?

For certain not all roofs could support people sleeping on them. Other roofs would be too difficult for people to access. Indeed, some neighbors of the roof sharing people would be horrified at the notion of people sleeping on their neighbor’s roofs. You can even drag in the old liability issue, though I’m particularly sick of hearing about liability when one is attempting to do something good in this world. Liability is pretty much just an excuse for not doing something, there are plenty of excuses for not doing something good so I’ll just move along.

So here’s the thing, Arise makes it easy for people to get up on the roof. Dumpsters and other items are placed so that people can get up to the roof with their gear. Summertime is perfect for roof sleeping in the twin cities. Actually roof sleeping, albeit not by the homeless, is fairly common in many east coast cities in the muggy summers. We don’t know from muggy here in the northwest. Muggy makes you sleep on your apartment’s roof or fire escape. Look up and down some neighborhoods in New York on a muggy summer’s eve and you will see many people sleeping on mattresses on their fire escapes.

Seems to me that the poorer the neighborhood in NY the more likely you are to find people sleeping on roofs and fire escapes. Don’t these people know they are living in dangerous neighborhoods because there are poor people there? No telling what those poor people will do to someone with the sense to sleep on a fire escape or roof during a muggy night. I’ll tell you what these poor people will do, they join them for sleep on the roof, it is the only sensible thing to do and no sensible person would do such a thing if they thought it was unsafe. Actually in the summer time some of the city’s roofs will pretty much resemble a slumber party

People sleeping on Arise’s roof are not trespassing, they are on the roof with the permission of the bookstore. Beverly said that the roof campers were never a problem, indeed they policed themselves. There is something amazing and empowering about a bookstore that invites people to camp out on their roof. On the surface it might be considered a very small act, but one with profound implications. Besides keeping people out of the gutter, it gives them their OWN space. The users have a sense of ownership of the space and hence a sense of responsibility. It really is amazing.

Still weak in the knees from our heated agreement we exit B&B to loiter out in front and light up a cigarette. We walk by Nutter’s and he glares at us from inside his store. It seems that he does no business there and spends most of his time sizing up people that walk by his window, on “his” sidewalk. Beverly and I enjoy a couple of blocks of Olympia street life as we end up heading our different ways.

If Olympia wants to do something really terrific for it’s homeless I can think of no better thing than opening up some of the downtown roofs for camping. Maybe Tradition’s might consider such at thing. Think of the fine view people there would have of Capitol Lake. I think it could work in that location. Maybe the new owners of the Spar might consider such a thing. I know there are people out there saying, Sepulveda, you are crazy, like I haven’t heard that before. But I suspect there are a few of you out there that are in violent agreement with me. So light up a cigarette, loiter in front of B&B and look up at the roof tops around you. That is what this town needs.


Will the last poor person leaving Olympia please turn off the lights

I find myself stranded in Tacoma and I have myself quite a dilemma. Lord knows I tried to find a cheap apartment in Olympia, my preferred location being in the downtown area, no further than one cigarette smoke away from Sylvester Park. My timing was bad, I was looking for a place to live just as all the Evergreen students were converging on town and providing some formidable competition for the apartments. I know I have another shot coming up when the first wave of students start dropping out or reconsolidating during the winter break.

While I don't mind the competition for the apartments, I'm a pretty shrewd and crafty competitor myself, I am appalled at the rents being charged in Olympia, in particular the places and locations I would desire. I looked at the Capitol House, kind of my sort of place, but the rents for a one bedroom were like $620, albeit with utilities included. Not exactly my neck of the woods, but it would do. At $520 I would have snapped it up. Still the Capitol House is well over a hundred bucks a month more than they would charge in Tacoma.

I had the opportunity to buy a house in the Olympia area a year and a half ago. Sadly my bank would only loan me up to 135k, and the cheapest houses in Olympia, at that time, were bumping up against 200k and those were pretty much tear downs. So I ended up in Centralia where you could buy a house for less than 100k. Now Centralia is a fine little town with lots of potential, but I don't exactly see myself as a pioneer in that particular locale. Centralia was fine for a married man, but not so good for an unmarried man with a whole slew of projects up in Pierce and Thurston counties and not being a driver. I pretty much eschew the motor vehicle, except for public transportation, but my favorite mode of transportation is walking.

So getting back to the dilemma. I need to be living back in Olympia. I need to be downtown. I need to walk around as my major mode of transportation and I need to be a part of my community and make the contributions I feel are important. I have a way cool apartment in Tacoma, but it is not enough. Sure I have great job prospects in Tacoma, for way more money than I'm accustomed to, but that is not really my thing. I'd prefer to be poor and happy in Olympia than wealthy and miserable in Tacoma or anywhere else. In the end I'll end up paying $100 more a month for rent in Olympia. A small price to pay to be happy and a member of a true community. I wish we had the selection and flexibility of the housing choices in Tacoma, but that is not yet in the cards. Be assured, once I find my apartment, I ain't leaving.

Olympia is a very desirable place to live. More and more people are finding this out and moving in faster than the existing housing can withstand. Supply and demand. Location, location, location. Olympia is starting to be a difficult place for a poor person to live. I know, from other cities, it is the poor people that give a town or district the reputation that the wealthy will want to take over. Once the poor establish a place as desirable to live in, the gentrifiers will start flocking in.

Olympia is rapidly becoming a place where the poor will no longer be able to live. I don't think there is anything wrong with being poor. Money is not the measure of anyone's humanity. The poor are creative, resourceful, and have better understandings of the important things in life. Money tends to distort these attributes, and not for the good. A day will come when even if the poor are willing to pay the outrageous rents of Olympia, the landlords will be looking for more "mainstream" tenants and just not rent to the poor. That is not the sort of thing that this town needs.
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