FIFE, Wash. - For the past several days, a South Sound hotel owner has found himself in the crosshairs of a demonstration aimed at saving the lives of our region’s homeless.
A group called Tacoma Housing Now kicked off the occupation on Christmas Eve when more than a dozen people checked into the Travelodge hotel in Fife. They reserved the rooms for one night, but never checked out and have not paid. The bill, says a THN spokesperson, has been forwarded to Pierce County elected leaders, claiming officials have neglected to properly care for the region’s homeless.
The hotel’s owner blames Fife city leaders for allowing the rooms to be taken over by protesters and the demonstration is crashing his livelihood.
"I have a zero reservations today," said Shawn Randhawa.
He said he was blindsided when the guests who checked in refused to check out. Randhawa says he feels held hostage.
"What I’m concerned about is the lawlessness," he said. "Where is our city officials?"
County councilmember Pam Roach, whose district includes Fife, says her elected colleagues did not endorse her attempt to turn portions of the Pierce County Jail into a shelter, and agreed with THN who claims the region’s homeless crisis had not been addressed effectively.
Roach also said the occupation must end.
"The local government needs to be responding," she said.
Fife’s city manager says the city is developing a plan to find shelter for homeless protesters so the hotel can get back to business, but that effort has grown complicated as a THN organizer and a demonstrator had tested positive for COVID-19.
Tacoma Housing Now says too many people have died while living unsheltered, and would not back down from demands.
"There are enough empty buildings in Tacoma," said spokesperson Rebecca Parson. "The city’s not using them and all of these people on the streets."
Randhawa says local police wouldn’t help, claiming officers would not remove the demonstrators. The city’s police chief told Q13 News he was looking into the hotel owner’s allegation that officers told him staffing issues prevented the demonstrator’s removal.
"I’m not against anybody," said Randhawa, adding his livelihood was at stake. "Somebody needs to be paying for it."
The city manager says the COVID-19 cases reported by demonstrators will impact how the city might respond, adding the city is working with the county health department to determine how to proceed.
Late Tuesday evening, the city issued a press release specifying where demonstrators could seek shelter away from the hotel and options for those infected with COVID-19.