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Homeless advocacy group ‘occupying’ WA motel won’t pay or leave; ‘it’s complete lawlessness’

A homeless advocacy group paid for one night on Christmas Eve at a Tacoma, WA Travelodge and then refused to leave or pay. City leaders and police have told the group to relocate or be arrested. Officials are attempting to help find the radical activists shelter. Police are not evicting them despite warning them of being arrested.

Tacoma Housing Now reserved 16 rooms at the Fife Travelodge Motel at 3518 Pacific Hwy. E. on Thursday, motel manager Shawn Randhawa said. The protest has grown and it is now 18 rooms. They moved in and now have no intention of leaving. The protesters have occupied the rooms for five days now. They claim the bill should be sent to Tacoma and Pierce County.

43 people are being housed at the motel, but another 60 protesters are standing around outside.

Police are taking no action to speak of. They are not arresting or removing anyone at this point.

“I’m just devastated,” Shawn Randhawa told The 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.”

“They are keeping me hostage. No one is out to help me,” he said. “It’s complete lawlessness in the city of Fife.”

If the situation does not change in a few days, Randhawa said he will abandon the property and his 15 employees will stop showing up.

“I’ll have to lock the doors. and if the city won’t kick them out, they can have it,” he said. “I’ll shut off the water and I’m not fighting with these people. I believe there should be a law.”

“I have lost $2,800 to $3,000 a day, and I might lose employees who want to quit,” he said. “I barely have 15 rooms instead of my normal average of like 37 to 42 rooms. It was like that even during the pandemic.”

“I don’t think it’s fair. It’s criminal. They are a bunch of thugs,” Randhawa said. “I won’t work with this group. I thought this was the job of the city to enforce the laws of the city. You can’t just take over someone’s house. It’s complete lawlessness.”

Fife Police Chief Pete Fisher said the group is trespassing. But instead of using force to remove the people, he wants to work with the organization.

“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.”

Rebecca Parson is the spokesperson for Tacoma Housing Now. She is justifying the occupation by stating that at least five homeless people have died this year from exposure while living outside in Tacoma. She said there are positive COVID-19 cases at homeless shelters, and the group wanted a safe option for those with medical conditions.
“We wanted somewhere for people to stay warm and dry and get showers and stay as safe as possible,” Parson said.

The group insists they want the manager, Randhawa, to be paid.

“We paid for first night — Christmas Eve — and then we are sending the bill to county and city,” Parson stated.

Asked about the crime of trespassing, Parson said: “The biggest crime of all is anybody dying of cold in the streets.”

Randhawa says he feels the group isn’t giving him a choice. He doesn’t feel supported by the police or the city. He said there was destruction of property when one of the doors was broken after he locked a motel room.

This same organization took over Gault Middle School in November to house those experiencing homelessness but left after Tacoma police threatened to make arrests.

Fife’s city manager Hyun Kim said that he wants an open dialogue between all parties. He wants to help those who are experiencing homelessness but also worries about the small business.

“I would like to bring together partners to provide wrap-around services to these people. I understand that some are sick and just a hotel room is not an end-all-be-all,” he said. “Occupying a private motel and potentially put them out of business is untenable. I fear for those who might lose their job.”

He does not have a time table of when or if law enforcement would be used. Most likely, the city or state will wind up paying for the rooms but not before the business closes its doors for good.

Pierce County Councilmember Pam Roach, who represents Fife, said that this situation is a result of the need for housing for the homeless and a disregard for people’s businesses.

“It goes right back to the fact that we need to find space for people especially when it’s cold,” she said. “If the government isn’t doing its job, citizens pay for it — just like this business owner.”

Tacoma Housing Now believes government officials, in Tacoma and Fife, should subsidize its initiative using COVID-19 relief funds and prevent those occupying the Travelodge from being evicted. On Tuesday, the organization announced that one of its members, and two individuals occupying the motel, tested positive for the respiratory disease. The group is now asking for a moratorium on any planned evictions until free COVID-19 tests are provided to everyone involved in the occupation.

“If anyone tests positive, the only rational response would be to keep them where they are,” wrote Tacoma Housing Now in a press release.

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