Attorney suing City of Olympia says city ‘gave town away to the homeless’

Jun 5, 2019, 5:48 PM

Olympia, City of Olympia...

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

(KIRO 7)

A group of businesses is suing the city of Olympia for failing to mitigate crimes that they say are caused by the homeless encampments in the downtown core.

Attorney Jon Cushman said that for years, the city has turned a blind eye to homeless encampments on both public and private property.

“[The city] did not enforce trespass law, nuisance law, other legal vehicles by which they could have ejected and removed these trespassers,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “Instead, the city adopted a tolerance policy.”

What’s more, he said that the city of Olympia seemed to take the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Martin v. Boise decision last year — which ruled that the City of Boise violated the U.S. Constitution when it stopped people from camping on sidewalks and other public property — as a green light for actually setting up a city-sanctioned camp.

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As a result, according to Cushman, business and property values have decreased for his clients, and crimes such as theft and vandalism have cost the merchants dearly. Tort claims filed by the businesses currently total about $1.75 million, but Cushman expects this number to go up.

“People don’t want to go downtown Olympia anymore,” Cushman said. “It’s unsafe, it’s unsightly, and it drives away customers, it drives away tenants — it simply reduces the quality of life for people living here, citizens who’ve lived here, some of them, for generations.”

He thinks that Olympia is attempting to act in the best interests of homeless people and appreciates this, but said that in actuality, the city’s actions are really hurting these people.

“I think that it is a misguided sense of charity — I think that they think they’re doing these people a favor by leaving them alone in the squalor and indignity of these camps,” he said. “And they’re not. They’re not helping these people.”

“They’re using taxpayer money to assuage their own conscience to think they’re doing good,” he added. “It’s always easier to do good using somebody else’s dime.”

Cushman observed that two camps were forced to shut down after the lawsuit was filed, but that the street campers have simply moved on to other areas.

“Our town is not the same,” Cushman said. “The city has participated in, basically, giving the town away.”

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Attorney suing City of Olympia says city ‘gave town away to the homeless’