Homeless People Take Over Abandoned School in Tacoma

In Tacoma, WA, police put on personal protective equipment in order to clear an abandoned school that had been taken over by nearly a dozen people. This action was taken on the night of Friday, November 20. The homeless people and some activists had taken over the abandoned building because of a perceived need for emergency pandemic housing.

Why the Abandoned School Was Taken Over

An activist group called Tacoma Housing Now told a local news station that with the recent onset of cold weather, two homeless individuals have died of exposure on the streets. Early Friday afternoon, the group took over the abandoned Gault Middle School on East Division Street. A school patrol noticed that one of the entrances that had been boarded shut was damaged. The school patrol officer contacted the Tacoma Police Department at that time.

Tacoma Police Department Responds to the Scene

According to a representative of the Tacoma Police Department, part of the roof of the former school building collapsed years ago. There is exposed wiring that has been vandalized by thieves. All of the utilities in the building have been turned off. It is not safe for anyone to be inside of the building.

Police Remove the Trespassers

The Tacoma Police Department spent hours talking with the people inside the school building. They refused to come out. That is why the police made the decision to enter the structure. Once the police were inside, they told the trespassers that they had the option to leave voluntarily and be connected with resources to find somewhere to stay for the night, or they would be arrested for burglary if they chose not to leave voluntarily.

Homeless Outreach Team Offered Help

The Tacoma Police Department brought in a homeless outreach team. It was unclear of whether or not any of the trespassers took advantage of the available services. A person who represents Tacoma Housing Now said that with the school building empty for more than 11 years, they made the decision to go into it. They had already tried negotiating with the city to convert it into a structure for low-income housing, but those attempts failed.

What the Activist Group Had to Say

The homeless activists said that for each night homeless people are sleeping on the street, there is an increased risk that they will die of exposure. They were extremely disappointed and disgusted by the school district's decision to allow the police to threaten them with a felony crime for entering the structure. The group's representative went on to say that they are a coalition of Tacoma residents who want to end homelessness in the city. They support more actions to end the city's housing crisis. They want everyone to have a home. The group fights against real estate developers who only want to build expensive housing units. They also work against the politicians, sweeps, police and bureaucratic policies that stand in the way of affordable housing for all Tacoma residents. The group is also against empty talk, which they have experienced a lot of over the years.

What the Tacoma Housing Now Group Wants

The group's top demand is a community land trust. They want it to include the former Gault Middle School and other vacant, city-owned properties. All of them would more than be enough to house the city's current number of homeless individuals. There would also be enough space to offer additional low-income housing to people who stay in hotels or with relatives instead of on the streets. The group also wants the police to stop sweeping the city's homeless encampments. They would prefer that the police instead spend money on sanitation services for those areas. Tacoma Housing Now also wants the city to stop giving out tax breaks for real estate developers that only build expensive housing. Their demands also include spending more money on full-size permanent housing and removing the City Manager position. Instead, they want that power to go to the city council.

What Tacoma Housing Now Wants the Police to Do

The Tacoma Housing Now activists want the police officers who were involved in the death of Manuel Ellis to be fired. They also want a 50% funding cut for the police. They want that money to be used for low-income housing and social services. Nobody was arrested Friday night, and police will monitor the former school.

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