Olympia, Washington is nestled in the North West corner of the U.S. You’ve probably heard about Nirvana, legal marijuana, our rainy seasons, and suicide rate, but have you heard about our totally radical street outreach program EGYHOP?
If you've spent any time in downtown Olympia, you’ll know there's a large community of people that hang out on the street all year round by our famous Artesian Well. All kinds of people come to chill here, it's like the wall ball court in elementary school.
Many people complain about the large population of street kids, and that they don't feel safe filling up their water jugs at the well anymore. These are usually the same people that refer to downtown as a dirty needle-ridden hellhole. Meanwhile, others invest their time in responding to the core issues of the downtown area to make it a more habitable place for all. There are businesses that come together to form cleaning parties on the weekends. I’ve seen a couple guys handing out PBJs at the well (quality PBJs btw, no wonder bread-type shit!). I’ve met a man who collects coins downtown and puts them in all the expired meters (my hero!). There's another guy who carries around a broom and is constantly sweeping (he accepts tips!). A lot of people are getting very creative to help out where the City of Olympia can't or won't.
Another radical service in downtown Olympia is EGYHOP – a volunteer-based anarchist street outreach program that inhabits downtown Olympia seven nights a week, 365 days a year. I interviewed Meg Martin, volunteer for EGYHOP for six years, in hopes of learning more about de-centralized organizing, the state of homelessness in downtown, and ways you can contribute to their organization.
So Meg, give us the scoop: what’s EGYHOP all about?
EGYHOP is an acronym for The Emma Goldman Youth and Homeless Outreach Project. Emma Goldman was this awesome anarchist nurse who did very cool shit. The group started about 16 years ago by an amazing person named Long Hair Dave. He started EGYHOP as an emergency triage outreach group that got people through the night so they could get to their services in the morning. He provided this service on bicycle, and he was out on the streets pretty much all the time. At some point it got to be too much for him so a group of punk/anarchist people started helping out. Eventually he took a break from the group. This is when EGYHOP became the all-volunteer run, non-hierarchical, street-outreach program it is today.
Today, EGYHOP involves two bikes with big trailers receiving and distributing donations of blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes, tents, camping gear, tarps, socks, gloves, hand warmers, jackets, clean clothes, and food donations from some of the local businesses downtown. We usually have coffee, cold pizza, and pastries on the bikes.
Another issue Dave recognized on the streets was the need for clean needles, or a syringe exchange. That’s something we do as well – we're a mobile syringe exchange. One of the carts with hygiene and first aid supplies (including vitamins, ibuprofen, bandages, and so on) also has a large sharps container for the collection of dirty needles. We also carry a shoulder bag of clean injection supplies that we exchange on the street.