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Dec 16, 20

Seattle Park Barricaded Against Potential Sweep; Vacant Buildings Occupied

A proposed sweep by law enforcement of Cal Anderson Park in Seattle, Washington was halted Wednesday, at least for the time being, as those living in the park erected barricades and occupied a vacant house on the Northeast corner of the park. Many of those living in the park have done so since the end of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone/Capitol Hill Organized Protest earlier this summer and the park has remained a focal point for ongoing protests and mutual aid efforts that have continued since the start of the George Floyd rebellion in May of this year.

According to The Seattle Times:

A removal of a Cal Anderson Park homeless encampment and park maintenance planned for early Wednesday has not yet happened after protesters set up a barricade in and around the park.

Seattle parks department employees posted notices Monday ordering the people in the Capitol Hill park to remove their personal property by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

By 7:15 a.m., more than 100 protesters clad in black had shown up and were guarding a perimeter inside the park around a cluster of tents. They stood in front of a barricade made of Dumpsters, plywood, barbed wire and other salvaged materials.

A report on Puget Sound Anarchists wrote of the action:

Seattle has been in the midst of a housing crisis for years, well before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been common to see parks, sidewalks and other spaces throughout Seattle inhabited by people who otherwise do not have houses to live in. Seattle city government has developed a multitude of bureaucracy to address this clear symptom of the failures of a municipality to serve its people, and it largely boils down to a violent and traumatizing process known as a sweep.

When a sweep at a houseless encampment occurs, residents are given zero advance notice and are awakened by police at their tent or structure door. Residents are ordered to provide their identity, which can result in arrest if someone has a warrant. Then, residents are informed they must leave the area and take all of their belongings with them, otherwise the city will dispose of them. Sometimes these sweeps happen when a resident isn’t around to answer for their belongings, and those people lose everything. The police are accompanied by Seattle Parks and Recreation employees, and together they trash and destroy people’s belongings, promising to hold them in storage while they recklessly toss them into a dumpster. This act of displacement and destruction of someone’s home and belongings is inherently violent and traumatizing, as well as exceptionally abhorrent given the Covid-19 pandemic with the onset of winter in the Pacific Northwest.

With a clear understanding of what’s at stake for our houseless neighbors in Cal Anderson park, preparations began to defend the park and its residents from police action. As dawn slowly crept upon the park Wednesday morning, over 100 people milled about the perimeters of an impressively barricaded space within the center of the park. It seems as if anything that wasn’t permanently affixed within a three block radius of the park was disassembled and repurposed for the intention of physically preventing police from harassing park residents and destroying their property and dwellings. Fences, pallets, soccer goals, barbed wire, and more were expropriated from nearby construction sites and a 360 degree barricade was constructed. A mobile kitchen announced pancakes were available. Food and hot drinks abounded. People laughed with each other, sharing stories from weeks of street fights with nationalists and police alike, but tensions also remained high as we anticipated police action.

Around 7:30am, someone announced that police in squad cars were seen on the north side of the park. Two minutes later, another group of squad cars were seen on the south side of the park, lights flashing. Twice, large groups of cops drove past the park with their lights flashing, yet the police made no attempt at moving into the park. Tensions remained high, and people stayed at ready. Come 10am, people started to relax more, and some began to leave, ostensibly to relieve themselves from being up all night building and strengthening barricades, or to possibly just find a bathroom.

Another report discussed the nearby housing occupation:

Facing an eviction notice for 7:30 am Wednesday morning, dozens of housed and unhoused activists occupied a vacant house at 1006 East Denny, on the Northeast corner of Cal Anderson Park. At 3:30 pm Wednesday, these members of the community, which has formed over the past six months around Black Lives Matter and homeless advocacy, dropped a banner stating “Housing Is a Human Right!”

“They’re trying to evict us… Where do they expect us to go?” lamented one houseless activist. “This has been as close to a home as I’ve had in years. There aren’t enough shelter beds in the City for people like us, it’s cold out, and it’s almost Christmas. But there are thousands of empty spaces– why won’t they open them up to us?”

The activist’s demands are clear: Stop the sweeps, and guarantee housing for all.

“So many people don’t want to stay in shelters because of past trauma, or because they’re high-barrier or accept only youth or women,” said one activist, a social worker who works with the houseless community. “We need to provide places where people can live independently, get back on their feet, access services, and be treated like the human beings that they are.

“The Housing First model works,” the activist continued; “We’ve seen it in academic research and in real-life cases. It’s more cost-effective, it’s better for long-term recovery, and it’s the only intervention that’s a real solution, not a Band-aid.”

Seattle’s shelter beds have been historically inadequate to meet the needs of the Homeless State of Emergency declared by King County in 2015. Since the beginning of the pandemic, shelters have had to reduce capacity to meet social distancing requirements. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines urge cities to allow homeless encampments when other housing options are not available, and to instead install hand washing-stations and portable toilets to improve sanitation. Further, the guidelines state, “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community.”

This is not the first time that police have attempted to evict those living in the park. In September, police repeatedly attempted to clear Cal Anderson, after those living in the area opened up one of the vacant buildings found on the grounds and turned it into a mutual aid center. Those pushed out by the police simply reconvened back at the park, and the encampment continued. Currently, City of Seattle is also being sued by “a woman who ha[s] been living in the park since the summer” and who has “filed a civil rights complaint in U.S. District Court in Seattle to stop the removal.” While the outcome of this lawsuit remains to be seen, it may legally delay the eviction on the ground.

It’s Going Down reached out to “Gil” in Seattle about the ongoing encampment, its context, and the social dynamics at play on the ground. They explained that Cal Anderson Park is located in the Capital Hill neighborhood, a historic queer district, that for decades has seen intense gentrification. During the initial days of the uprising, the neighborhood saw pitched street battles between residents and riot police who were backed up by the National Guard. After police abandoned the East Precinct and the military left the city, demonstrators occupied several blocks surrounding the now vacant building, establishing the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone/Capitol Hill Organized Protest. During this period, Cal Anderson Park was a focal point of ongoing demonstrations, mass meetings and events, and mutual aid organizing. After the CHAZ/CHOP was dismantled, some of the people that were involved in the protests remained at Cal Anderson Park, which continues to be an epicenter of activity.

According to Gil, in response to threats by law enforcement to raid the encampment and evict those living there, people fortified barricades and during Wednesday’s defense of the park, once again re-opened the vacant “Shelter House” building; the same space that was re-opened in September, so the area could be utilized for the distribution of mutual aid supplies. Mutual aid stations were also set up throughout the park, as was free food. Meanwhile, on the Northeast corner of the park, the home is that had been occupied earlier in the day also remains open and people continue to stop by and say hello.

Despite what has been reported widely in some press, Gil told us that interactions with neighbors have been mainly positive, and in general people involved in the encampment have done their best to pick up trash and help keep the space clean. While the city at times has attempted to paint the encampment as a potential COVID-19 hot-spot, in reality its drive to evict those at Cal Anderson Park is based more around their desire to stamp out the last vestiges of the CHAZ/CHOP and push an increasingly militant encampment that refuses to budge, from the area.

One of the most interesting things that Gil conveyed to us, is that not only is the encampment growing everyday, but that many people are joining after being displaced from work and housing due to the growing coronavirus pandemic. Those involved in the encampment have also been inspired by the successful anti-eviction blockade of the Red House in Portland, as well as a desire to defend themselves from far-Right street gangs which plagued the CHAZ/CHOP with numerous incidents of harassment and violent assaults.

While the future of the encampment at Cal Anderson Park remains unknown, those currently building barricades have no intention of leaving anytime soon.

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