A group calling itself Tacoma Housing Now booked several rooms at an area hotel Christmas Eve and have since refused to leave, provoking a stand-off with law enforcement and outrage from the hotel’s management.
Members of the group booked 16 rooms at a Travelodge Motel in Fife, Wash., according to manager Shawn Randhawa. The group paid for the first night but has refused to pay for subsequent nights.
“I’m just devastated,” Randhawa told the Tacoma News Tribune. “Because of the protest, I have nothing else. I was barely getting through this pandemic, and now this. This Christmas, the Grinch came.”
Pete Fisher, the city’s police chief, told the outlet that the group is trespassing but rather than move in to evict them, he has instead chosen to negotiate a settlement.
“We’re trying to see if we can work out a resolution without having to take law enforcement action,” Fisher said. “We’re talking about people with medical issues, cold weather that are homeless. So we are trying to work with our neighboring agencies to see what we can do in the form of relief, relief or temporary shelter.”
A spokeswoman for the group, Rebecca Parson, said that at least five homeless people have died from exposure to the elements this year in Tacoma. She also said that some people at area homeless shelters have tested positive for COVID-19, so her group sought a safer option — squatting.
“We wanted somewhere for people to stay warm and dry and get showers and stay as safe as possible,” she told the local paper.
And while Parsons said she believes that Randhawa should be paid, she wants city and county taxpayers to foot the bill for her group.
“We paid for the first night — Christmas Eve — and then we are sending the bill to county and city,” she said.
Asked about the trespassing allegation, Parsons responded: “The biggest crime of all is anybody dying of cold in the streets.”
KIRO reported that on Monday, volunteers from Tacoma Housing Now brought food and other provisions for the more than 40 homeless people now occupying the motel.
“A lot of these folks here have chronic illnesses,” a member of the group who went by the name “Arrow” told KIRO. “They have everything from cancer to severe infectious seizures, all sorts of chronic illnesses.”
Nevertheless, Randhawa told police and City Manager Hyun Kim that the hotel is a small, struggling business with 10 employees that is barely getting by during the pandemic.
“They may have to close up shop because with no revenues coming in, with their margins where they are, they may have to close operations,” Kim told KIRO. “So, I’m trying to buy some time. It starts with conversations with both sides.
“The silver lining here on behalf of the City of Fife is we have about 40 souls who have come off the streets who want assistance, and the City shares in the cause in getting them help,” Kim continued, adding that “this is a societal issue.”
Fisher told KIRO it’s clear the group is committing theft and engaging in trespassing, but Randhawa so far is not demanding the group be forcibly removed.
“We’re very fortunate in that the business owner, though strapped and wondering day to day if he can even stay in business, is willing to work with us,” Fisher said. “The last thing we want to do is have 40 people in this cold weather kicked back out into the street without any resources.”