A group of homeless advocates gathered about 40 homeless people in Tacoma, Washington at a Travelodge motel. The activists paid for the homeless to have 16 rooms in the motel on Christmas Eve. So far so good. But the next day, the activists and the homeless announced they would not be leaving the rooms and also would not be paying for them.

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, Randhawa said.

Tacoma Housing Now leaders agree the manager should be paid, but activists want the money to come from COVID-19 relief funds or from defunding local police departments.

A member of the housing group who calls himself Arrow told KOMO News, “We want to work within the system if the system wants to work with us, but it has to be in advancing their conditions.” But in their statements about the situation on Facebook, the housing group sounds a lot less reasonable. Let’s walk through this:

On Christmas Day, we took the Port of Tacoma Travelodge for Emergency Pandemic Housing. We’ve housed 43 people, and need your help to keep them housed!

They “took” the Travelodge, meaning they took it over. They didn’t house 43 people, the Travelodge did. The members of this group didn’t invite the homeless to come to their homes. They invited them to squat at someone else’s business. There’s a cost involved with that but the activists aren’t paying it, the business owner is. The message continues:

Thus far the motel manager has been willing to work with us, but that’s only because supporters show up! We need you to keep up the pressure, especially on Monday morning when we expect corporate to get involved.

He’s willing to work with them because he’s been bullied into it. In a piece written for the anarchist site It’s Going Down, it’s clear the owner isn’t that enthusiastic [emphasis added]

Whatever happens tomorrow — the hotel owner has threatened to call Travelodge corporate — we have already achieved victory: keeping people off the streets for 4 days.

Again, you didn’t keep people off the street, the Travelodge did that at his expense, not yours (except for the first night). And if this continues, the people working there will soon be out of jobs which could put their own housing at risk. On Twitter the group called for at least 70 people to show up for “eviction defense.”

https://twitter.com/TacHousing/status/1343320926855708672

On Wednesday, police finally showed up and cleared out the motel:

Fife police on Wednesday cleared a Pacific Highway motel of several dozen people who occupied rooms for six nights.

All occupants left the Fife Travelodge motel voluntarily, police chief Pete Fisher said…

While there were discussions of motel vouchers being offered, Fife’s city manager Hyun Kim said they had to switch gears after “some potential threats of violence.”

“We received information that there were people who were going to take justice into their own hands,” Kim said.

The Tacoma Rescue Mission offered beds for all of the occupants. A spokesman for the activist group said, “this is still a victory because they were off the streets for six nights.” Except, again, they didn’t house anyone, the motel owner did and the stay was mostly at his expense. If they wanted to take credit they should have a) paid for the rooms or b) invited the homeless to their own houses. You don’t get to take credit for forcing someone else to pay the cost.

No one was arrested for this stunt but a police spokesman said an investigation is underway. “There’s the humanitarian piece, but we can’t allow civil unrest and illegal occupation of our businesses,” he said. He’s right of course but in Washington state I’m not expecting anyone will face so much as a ticket for this behavior.

Here’s a local news report from King 5: