A group of Seattle activists who had “occupied” a Travelodge since Christmas Eve, demanding that the city of Seattle pay the bill, were booted from the hotel on Wednesday after the hotel’s owner begged police for assistance.
The group, Tacoma Housing Now, moved a group of sixteen homeless people into rooms at the Travelodge on Christmas Eve and paid for one night. The homeless people did not move out after 24 hours and THN declared the situation an “occupation,” demanding that the city further defund the police department and use the money to fund the Travelodge as a homeless shelter. Barring that, they want the money to come from COVID relief.
“CARES money, FEMA money, defunding the police. So many options for funding. PAY UP, @CityofTacoma and @PierceCo,” the group declared on Twitter.
“Housing people in unoccupied hotels doesn’t ruin anyone‘s business,” they continued. “If you care about protecting empty spaces more than saving human lives, that says a lot about your ethics and values. We will not accept one more death on the streets!”
According to local news outlet KOMO, a few dozen activists associated or recruited by THN extended the occupation to the hotel’s parking lot, creating an “autonomous zone”-style continuous protest and daring police to remove them.
The owner, of course, felt different about how “housing people in unoccupied hotels doesn’t ruin anyone’s business,” telling KOMO that the homeless require care that THN, which placed them, isn’t providing and that he cannot force his staff to provide for free. The ongoing demonstration outside, too, is driving away possible customers, leaving him unable to attract further business.
“Shawn Randhawa, the motel operator, said if the cost of the rooms goes unpaid, it’s only a matter of days before he will have to shut down and lay off his 10 employees. Repeated protests in the parking lot have driven away most of the other paying customers,” KOMO reported.
“I’m just devastated,” Randhawa added. “Because of the protest, I have nothing else. I was barely getting through this pandemic, and now this. This Christmas, the Grinch came.”
“They are keeping me hostage. No one is out to help me. It’s complete lawlessness in the city of Fife,” he said.
THN says they have little sympathy for Randhawa because he received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. They also say they brought mental health specialists and other service providers to assist the homeless occupiers.
On Wednesday, Jason Rantz reports, THN, fearing a coming eviction called in “anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements,” from across the city. THN announced that it had “50-70 people ready to defend if needed.”
Rantz notes that although THN put up a fight, by Wednesday evening they had been fully evicted.
“Police Chief Pete Fisher is speaking now to explain why they’re acting today to remove the radicals,” Rantz reported from on the scene Wednesday afternoon. “He confirms he was working with the radicals but implies the business owner (who he does call a victim) might have made matters worse when he complained about the situation to the press.”
Eventually, when their reinforcements didn’t show, the activists left the hotel.
Seattle did defund the police department — at least partially — but the money is not going to pay the bill for THN’s Travelodge occupation, and a pilot program that paid for homeless individuals to stay at other hotels is unlikely to move forward. MyNorthwest reports that other Seattle area city councils have voted to end the program after experiencing a rise in violence in the areas surrounding the hotels.