• The activists have been charged with various crimes, including assault in the first-degree
  • Oly Housing Now calls itself a coalition of Olympia residents working to end homelessness
  • The group demanded that city use the Federal Emergency Management Agency funding

The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing problem of homelessness in the U.S. Concerns have been mounting that job losses due to the pandemic will leave many more people without homes in the coming years.

As many as 10 members of a housing advocacy group, Oly Housing Now, were arrested on Sunday after they allegedly stormed a hotel in Olympia, Washington, while demanding that the city do more to help the homeless. They were charged with various crimes, including burglary in the first degree and assault in the first-degree, Olympia Interim Police Chief Aaron Jelcick said.

In a statement, the city of Olympia said that around 11 a.m., the Olympia Police Department received reports that a group was attempting to forcibly take over the Red Lion Hotel and an employee was allegedly assaulted.

The police estimated that about 45 members of the Oly Housing Now group were seen inside and outside of the hotel. According to employees, some of the housing group members were armed with hatchets, batons and knives and wearing gas masks, CNN said.

Before the attempted takeover, the group had reserved 17 rooms, which had been occupied by homeless individuals, the statement said. As the police began clearing the hotel, the statment added, the city’s Crisis Response Unit connected the unhoused people to services.

Oly Housing Now calls itself a coalition of Olympia residents working to end homelessness throughout the city. In a statement it released on Jan. 31, the group said "it’s too cold for people to be sleeping on the streets — especially during a pandemic." It said it took the Red Lion Motel for emergency pandemic housing and demanded that the city use Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.

“Thurston County Health Department must apply for FEMA funding and use it for COVID-19 prevention sites and non-congregate shelter for people who are 65+ years old or who have pre-existing health conditions,” the group’s statement read.

It also demanded that the City of Olympia use public first responders or public safety emergency housing in the form of hotel vouchers to support the houseless community in Olympia.

Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby said after the incident that ensuring the city’s “unhoused residents have access to safe and affordable housing has been Olympia’s priority for more than a decade,” according to The Hill.

Homelessness and the housing crisis have been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a report from May last year, there were about 500,000 people who were homeless in America, but millions were facing housing instability, CNN noted. President Joe Biden made fixing the affordable housing crisis an important part of his campaign, and pledged to invest $640 billion over 10 years to create affordable housing.

After taking office, Biden extended the federal ban on evictions through March 2021. The data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that nearly one in five households were behind on their rent in December 2020.

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A shooting at Orland Square Mall have been reported. One male victim has been confirmed dead. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images