“Today we are making a home, a fresh start. We are taking what they are throwing away,” said James, a houseless man who had just moved into the Gault Middle School in Tacoma. The Gault Middle School building has been vacant for 11 years.
On Nov. 20, the Tacoma Housing Now coalition took over the Gault building to create emergency COVID-19 housing. Arrow, the founder of Food Not Bombs Tacoma told Liberation News that FNBT medics had recently found a homeless man, Thomas, who had died of exposure. Thomas, an elder in his 60s, was found in his wheelchair. Another homeless man has also died outside recently in Tacoma.
TCH took immediate action to bring residents of a nearby encampment in from the cold. Arrow explained that for homeless people the cold weather is not the only emergency: “With increasing restrictions due to COVID, they are also facing a hygiene crisis.” Many of the residents of encampments have serious infections that require medical care. Arrow envisions the Gault MS site including not only emergency housing but community based medical care as well.
This reporter was present as THN and camp residents took over the Gault site. Moving with precision, cars, vans and a U-Haul truck pulled up and a small group breached the boarded up school building. Inside, the site was filthy and full of dust and broken glass; immediately teams started sweeping and cleaning before settling in for a short community meeting.
Others headed out to the front of the school for a press conference and community rally. Rebecca Parson of THN chaired the event, sharing the coalition’s demands. The primary demand is:
The City of Tacoma must work with Tacoma Public Schools to put the Gault Middle School building and property into a permanent, community-controlled Community Land Trust. Put as many vacant, city-owned properties into the Trust as are necessary to house Tacoma’s entire houseless population.
Other demands include:
- Stop the sweeps. The city must sanction encampmets in spaces that we choose. The city must provide the encampments with basic sanitation services.
- Fire the police who killed Manuel Ellis, reduce funding for the Tacoma Police Department by 50% and use that money for extremely low-income housing and social services.
- End the tax breaks for real estate developers.
Other rally speakers included Rev. Linda Hart of the Tahoma Unitarian-Universalist Congregation and Gault MS resident ML.
Hart said, “We want to see the vulnerable taken care of. It is intolerable to us that there are people living on the streets.”
Gault resident ML stated that he had been camping out under the bridge for 10 years. He said, “We have a lot of great ideas about the city doing projects. We have plenty of time to think about how we can improve our city. City Council is missing out on that.
As this article is being prepared for publication, the Tacoma Housing Now Facebook page has announced that Tacoma Police Department officers have arrived at the site. THN asks those who can to come to the site in support.
Tacoma Housing Now petition.