Destroyed Portable Toilets at Olympia Homeless Camp Escalate Harassment, Outreach Workers Say

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Outreach workers are concerned following an incident Oct. 16 when three portable toilets were blown up by explosive devices at a homeless camp on Wheeler Avenue.

Police received multiple reports of a large explosion around the area of Wheeler Avenue and Eastside Street at 7:44 p.m. that evening.

An officer drove down the street but didn't see anyone and left, according to the police report. Just after 9 p.m., more calls came in about an exploded portable toilet.

A witness told police that the explosion "shook his whole camp" and recalled seeing a '90s red Subaru wagon leaving the scene. The officer searched the scene but didn't recover any explosives.

The police report notes that there are no further leads in the case. According to Olympia Police Department spokesperson Lt. Paul Lower, the case is considered closed unless any new leads emerge.

The city of Olympia replaced the toilets this week, but outreach workers describe fear of more incidents like this, which they say are part of a pattern of harassment of people living in tent encampments.

It's not the first attack on the camp, they say, but it's the most concerning one yet.

Becca Chrisler works with Olympia Mutual Aid Partners (OLYMAP), where she is the site support coordinator for residents at the Wheeler camps as part of the joint city-county Scattered Site program.

Chrisler said she talked with several residents who witnessed the explosions and described a red Subaru SUV driving away from the scene. For the past several months, residents at the camp have reported cars throwing some kind of explosives — maybe fireworks — at them as they walk down Wheeler Avenue.

Robert Bruce, another outreach worker with OLYMAP, said he has noticed a mounting frustration in some circles towards the camps, with anger sometimes specifically directed against the efforts to provide sanitation. People from outside the camp routinely come and dump garbage in the dumpsters.

"There is a lot of resentment over resources being provided to people who are homeless," Bruce said. "Port-a-potties are a really visible thing. ... It does seem like kind of a message, (that) 'you're not welcome here.'"

According to Chrisler, residents have reported over several months seeing a red SUV that fits the police description throwing explosives out the window and sometimes throwing them at residents.

"I do think that these attacks are intentional," Chrisler said. "The port-a-potties seem like an escalation of something that's been going on for a long time."

Police are encouraging anyone with information about the explosions to contact the Olympia Police Department at 360-753-8300.

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