City set to sweep Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park, but plan appears to be on hold

SEATTLE — A major planned sweep expected to clear people who have camped for months at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood Wednesday morning appears to be on hold.

The halt comes after a homeless woman who lives in the park sued the city to stop the sweep in federal court. Judge Richard A. Jones, who heard arguments Wednesday night from the City of Seattle and the plaintiff’s attorney Braden Pence, said a decision could come as soon as Thursday morning.

According to the lawsuit, Ada Yeager has been living in a tent in Cal Anderson park since June, when the bordering street became the site of the CHOP protest zone.

Yeager was quoted in a personal appeal in the suit: “Sweeping us right now means taking away our homes and belongings at the beginning of winter, she said. “It will do nothing to get us housing. It will just cause more irreparable harm to our community and disrupt the relationships and resources that keep us going.”

Notices were posted around the area Monday ordering people to get all their belongings out by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Seattle Parks and Recreation announced it is preparing to reopen the park and needs to do intensive maintenance and cleaning.

But instead of leaving, more people came to the park.

In a statement by Seattle Parks and Recreation, it reported:

“In recent days, additional protesters have moved to Cal Anderson to occupy the park similar to occupation of the shelter house earlier this year. Recent regular SPR maintenance efforts have been met with threats of physical violence which is why SPR has had to request the assistance of the Seattle Police Department to ensure the safety of park maintenance and other city employees.

Individuals have barricaded a portion of the park and intentionally set a fire to a tent. SFD has reported five fires in the last month.”

When Chopper 7 was over the park shortly after 8 a.m., a fire was seen burning, and people were throwing trash, debris and fireworks into the flames.

Seattle police circled the area in a long line of patrol cars, but officers never moved in to clear the park.

Seattle Parks stated outreach groups have tried to connect with homeless people in the park for weeks, and city workers will be there during the day to coordinate services and offer shelter. Seattle Parks’ department did not state if or when people would be forced to leave, only that city workers will continue to offer services.

“While some may be looking to protest or resist these efforts, the city’s goal remains the same - bring individuals experiencing homelessness inside into safer spaces including hotels and partner with community to reopen the park,” the department expressed in a statement.

The area has been an ongoing flashpoint between demonstrators and police, especially at the Seattle Police Department East Precinct, which is a block away from the park.

The precinct was abandoned during the height of the racial justice protests over the summer after continual standoffs between protesters and police.

The park is technically closed and has been since late June, but people have continued to camp there or gather at the park for marches for most of the year since the protests began.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have advised against the idea of clearing encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it puts people at greater risk, especially if no other housing options are available.

Some neighborhood groups have complained about the lack of action by the city to clear the parks, which they believe have become a hazard.

The suit claims three Constitutional Amendments would be violated if the sweeps were permitted, and argues the people living in the park have no alternatives.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches a new crisis point in Seattle, shelters and transitional housing are full or nearly full,” the suit read. “Established tent encampments are the only safe option for Plaintiff and similarly-situated community members.”