Awaiting an imminent sweep of houseless occupants residing in Cal Anderson park, homeless advocates who claim they are “here to advocate for people who are unsheltered” in King County, and particularly Seattle held a press conference on Thursday Dec. 17. Held in front of a foreclosed house on 11th and Denny currently occupied by demonstrators, the representatives expressed concern for the effects of an anticipated sweep that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) announced Monday.
The houseless community, which has occupied part of the park since protesters organized the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, has been a center for growing mutual aid projects that work to serve activists and houseless occupants.
An advocate who represented the current demonstration against sweeps of homeless encampments at the conference, known to the Collegian simply as Ali, says she’s been involved with outreach in the area since CHOP was dismantled. She believes that if there isn’t “top down reform”, systems of power will be met with “bottom up dismantlement”.
“This is what happens when you don’t house people,” Ali says in reference to the occupation of the park and house, “When we say ‘by all means necessary’, this is what happens.”
Demonstrators have built a barricade around the encampment and have occupied the foreclosed house northeast of the park at 11th and Denny Street, some confirming that some houseless individuals are being sheltered there. Advocates are referring to the house as “Yellow House.”
At the conference, advocates outlined their demands. First, is to rescind a petition and letter issued on October 26th by businesses and community organizations asking the city to address their public safety and health concerns – or for the Seattle residents to boycott the businesses involved. Second, the advocates asked for housing to be provided for all the occupants in the parks addressed in the Oct. 26 petition and letter at least until the pandemic ends. Lastly, they asked for a permanent end to sweeps.
The representatives emphasized that the ultimate goal was to provide permanent housing for all.
When asked about the efficacy of the city’s efforts to resolve its houseless community, representatives speaking at the event said that although the city is investing in housing, it isn’t reaching the “street level”.
“This isn’t just one demographics issue, this is a community problem,” Ali says. “We all need to come together to address this. Nobody wants to live in the park.”
Anti-fascist-style, anti-police, and BLM protestors have intersected with other community issues like houselessness this summer after George Floyd’s killing sparked activist movements that have reverberated throughout the country against current political and policing systems.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has called the occupation a political one, but community members at the press conference disagreed. One says that it’s hard to omit politics from any social issue. Meanwhile, another argued that fighting for housing is a human right, and has nothing to do with politics.
“It’s important to understand that there are ways to go about this.” says Jaike Spotted Wolf, another representative at the conference, of providing space for houseless individuals in empty hotel rooms. “We’re making this much more complicated than we should be when it comes down to it. I don’t understand why, and it’s because we have our priorities shifted.”
Spotted Wolf says with empty hotel rooms in downtown Seattle experiencing financial shortfalls from Covid-19, the city could easily organize to provide temporary housing. Currently, the city is running short on shelter space.
“Filling those rooms, using whatever funding we can towards that crisis only helps the hotel owner, only helps the houseless,” she claims. “It’s an easy win-win.”
During the press conference, news broke that a temporary restraining order (TRO) seeking to postpone the sweeps was denied by a federal judge. Filed on behalf of an unhoused person residing in Cal Anderson park, Ada Yaeger, the suit states sweeps have caused Yeager to suffer harassment at the hands of the City of Seattle.
“In sum, Ms. Yaeger fails to show a likelihood of success on the merits,” reads the judge’s decision.
Court documents say that because Yaeger had failed to show a clear likelihood of success on the merits, necessary for seeking a TRO, the court would not consider the other three elements necessary.
The other three were: showing “likelihood of suffering irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief”, “that the balance of hardship tips in her favor”, and “that a temporary restraining order is in the public interest.”
It is unclear when or how another attempt at a sweep will occur. However, with the denial of the restraining order, those residing in the park fear a sweep could take place “at any moment”.