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Homeless, activists take over abandoned Tacoma school for 'emergency pandemic housing'

KOMO-TV Seattle logo KOMO-TV Seattle 1 day ago Cole Miller, KOMO News Reporter
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Donning protective gear, police cleared out an abandoned school building Friday night after roughly a dozen people, including activists and those who are homeless, took it over citing the need for “emergency pandemic housing.”

The group “Tacoma Housing Now” tells KOMO News that with the onset of colder temperatures, two people have died out on the streets. 

Earlier in the afternoon, they took over the old Gault Middle School off E Division. According to Tacoma Police, a school patrol noticed that one of the boarded-up entrances had been broken in to and that’s when TPD officers were called.

“It is not safe for people to be inside,” said Wendy Haddow with TPD. “Part of the roof has collapsed. There is exposed wiring that’s been stripped by thieves since the school shut down. All of the utilities are off inside.”

After hours of talking with the group inside, refusing to come out, police made the decision to move in.

“And basically told people when they found them inside that you have the option of leaving voluntarily and we will still connect you with resources and find you somewhere to stay for the night or you will be arrested for burglary,” said Maddow of that interaction.

Caption: KOMO

A homeless outreach team was on-site although it’s unclear how many, if any, took advantage of any services that were offered.

A representative with “Tacoma Housing Now” said with the school having sat empty for 11 years and failed attempts within the city to convert it into low-income housing, the decision was made to occupy it.

“Every night that houseless people are sleeping on the streets is a night that they could die and we are extremely disappointed and sickened by the school district’s decision to sign off on the cops threatening us with felonies,” said Rebecca Parson.

In a press release outlining various demands, the “coalition of Tacoma residents working to end homelessness throughout our city” said:

“We support direct action to end our city’s housing crisis and get everyone housed. We fight against real estate developers and their politicians, sweeps, the police, bureaucratic delays, and empty talk — and any obstacle that stands in the way of housing for all.

Our primary demand is a Community Land Trust including Gault Middle School and as many vacant, city-owned properties as are necessary to house Tacoma’s entire houseless population.”

Other demands including stopping sweeps of encampments and providing those locations with sanitation services, end tax breaks for real estate developers, spend more money on full-size, permanent housing, and removing the City Manager position with that power being transferred to the City Council.

The group wants the officers involved in the death of Manuel Ellis fired and for TPD to be defunded by 50 percent with that money being used for “extremely low-income housing and social services.”

No one was arrested Friday night. Police will be monitoring the school.

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