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Buck stops them here: Business owner fights Olympia

Ann Buck built this wall and door to deter homeless campers from sleeping in front of her business in Olympia. (KIRO 7)

Anne Buck has owned a historic building in downtown Olympia for 44 years. Like any business owner she’s weathered problems over that time, but recently she has been plagued by a new issue — a problem that grew from homeless campers in her doorway to battling city hall.

“I’ve never seen it as disruptive as it is right now,” Buck told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “When we come to work in the morning there are bodies lying in front of the store door. We also have a double door that goes up to art galleries and offices, and there are people sleeping there. There are lots of hypodermic needles all over the ground, food, and defecation, all kinds of stuff. I ask people to move – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.”

Related: Seattle mayor proposes $275 million levy to fight homelessness

Buck runs a spice shop out of the downtown Olympia building, and rents out space to other businesses. But her front door has become an attractive spot for overnight campers.

Homeless individuals often spent the night, sometimes the day, in her business doorway. Once, she found someone hanging their wet clothes out to dry in front of the doors. Sometimes there’s graffiti left behind. Her solution: build a lattice barrier with a door. But city officials noticed and quickly ordered Buck to take the wall down, saying she did not get the proper permit to build it. Officials also said it violated certain codes. And if she wants to contest that decision, it will cost her $1,000. To get her wall approved with the city, she will have to run it through a process that includes the design review board.

“I think the problem with politics is that nobody makes a decision,” she said. “I can’t imagine running any kind of business, government or not, without making decisions”

“Can you imagine sitting there with the design review board where people can’t even make decisions, and waiting maybe six months before I can stop people from sleeping in my doorway,” Buck said. “I put up with this for over a year, so I decided to just do it. I’m glad I did. And I will fight it.”

“I’ve owned the building for a long time, it’s a 72-foot-long building,” Buck said. “I’ve put a marquee across the building three times, and I’ve painted the building three times in those years, and no one has ever asked me to get any kind of permit or anything.”

She is sympathetic to the homeless crisis in Olympia, but she also has a business to run. And she’s never had any bad encounters with the campers at her doorstep.

“They’re too stoned, I think, to even get mean,” Buck said. “One time I had to call (the city) to move three bodies because I couldn’t get them to even wake up. They were elderly people, actually, with gray beards. It isn’t just young people, it’s all walks of life, lots of women.”

 

 

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