For the last two days a mutual aid protest group has been occupying the newly remodeled Cal Anderson Shelterhouse, a small rental facility equipped with a kitchen, gas fireplace, and a bathroom.
Organizers have been using the kitchen to feed the neighborhood’s homeless population, including some who had been swept along with the rest of CHOP last month.
Wednesday night one of the volunteers, Ali, said she’d heard people who had been living in the park had “gotten in” to the locked facility to use the bathroom and the kitchen. She said some of the homeless using the facility had been swept from the Waterfront, and then later from the CHOP.
"There are people here who still don't have their belongings back from that sweep," she said. A guy who gave his name as Mikey B. said he lived in the park during CHOP and lost his social security card and birth certificate in the sweep.
Ali, who said she worked at Pike Place Market and had a food handler's card, was handing out masks, putting out interpersonal fires, and generally coordinating outreach while others cooked a big pot of black beans and rice in the kitchen.
When she first arrived at Shelterhouse on Tuesday, Ali said she put out a call for volunteers and started to try to make the place "COVID-compliant." She said she "liberated" hand sanitizer stored in the closet, taped the floor to mark six feet of distance between people in the small soup line, set up a bathroom cleaning schedule, and started collecting sleeping bags and blankets for distribution.
Future Crystals streamer Chai Adera, who was part of the mutual aid effort that sprung from Vermillion during the protests at 11th and Pine, said he dropped off bottled water, clothes and a clothing rack, and boxes of tampons.
A sharps container sat near the entryway door, and a piece of paper taped to the wall featured the name and number of a volunteer offering “mental health, sexual assault/domestic violence support.”
Adera said, "This is not CHOP 2.0, this is just people utilizing a building to help the homeless."
Ali said, "This is just a reasonable thing to do for people who need help."
"Our mission is to renovate the Shelterhouse to modernize the facilities in adherence with the city's Climate Action Plan, while proactively embracing the social issues that continue to endanger our most vulnerable citizens," read some copy on the Shelterhouse Occupation Demands. "By embracing the events of these past few months as learning opportunities, we can provide the people of this neighborhood with enough resources to accurately target the actual demographics of Capitol Hill—from our unsheltered neighbors in Cal Anderson Park & Seattle Central, to our residents with accessibility concerns, to displaced trans folks who continually face the threat of being purposely misgendered and thrown into the wrong jail."
Top-line demands include building an all-gender bathroom with a 24/7 shower, including on-site "health management resources," "transgender protection resources," and "overdose prevention resources." More details can be found in their somewhat ambitious seven-page proposal.
Someone from the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department came by Tuesday afternoon and told the group they could use the space until 11:00 p.m., but then they had to lock up, Ali said. She said they did as instructed. Another organizer told the same story, but said someone from Parks told him, "Basically, we’ll try to figure things out today, but this will escalate, which means it’ll escalate on their end.”
The park is still technically closed, but people in the neighborhood have been walking their dogs, training on the playfield, sunbathing, holding maskless Christian rock concerts, and hanging out on benches for weeks.
A spokesperson for Seattle Parks said "the Shelterhouse is closed along with the whole park," and added "the situation with folks inside the shelter house is being monitored."
Outside on the patio, people played cards. A team of three protest medics tended to the scraped knee of a man who’d “taken a tumble” a little earlier in the evening, one medic said. A couple people were eating, and others were trying on clothes.
Two friends sat in chairs to chat and smoke cigs. One of those people, who gave his name as Isaac, told me he'd been sleeping outside for a month and a half. He described the facility as "useful" to him. "Nothing but good stuff," he said. "I woke up down and out. I came over here and I was able to get some coffee and some things that make you feel human. I was able to get clothes and some warmth for the night."
There was some commotion, too. At various points during the evening, someone was aimlessly walking around swinging a pipe, someone else was yelling at the bathroom and pounding on the door, someone else threw up. At one point Seattle Police Department officers chased a group of Every Night Direct Demonstration protesters, who were out doing their thing last night, toward the space, and a cruiser shined a big light on the area. One ENDD protester said this Shelterhouse Occupation was separate from their form of direct action.
Some protesters and campers said police officers had told them to leave Wednesday morning, and there were rumors of an imminent sweep, but I didn't see any flyers or notifications. Last week the Seattle City Council voted to nix the budget of the Navigation Team, a group of police officers and outreach workers that removes encampments. Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she expects police to continue removing encampments deemed public "obstructions" with only short-term notification, according to the Seattle Times.