The barricades of overturned dumpsters, upside-down couches, fridges, and one lonely soccer goal encircling the homeless encampment at Cal Anderson Park remained intact Wednesday morning.
Protest groups and activists turned out en masse to resist a planned encampment sweep that the city announced on Monday when Seattle Parks and Recreation employees, accompanied by a Seattle Police Department presence, posted notices around the park. The city would clear the encampment at 7:30 a.m. today, the notice read, but the sweep still hadn't happened as of Wednesday afternoon.
Cal Anderson has technically been closed since the summer, though campers and every Capitol Hill yuppie with a dog have avoided those rules. Now, Parks and Rec is planning to "reopen the park," department spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said. The city "is asking everyone to vacate so that staff can undertake a multi-day intensive maintenance and cleaning project." According to Schulkin, the department requested SPD's help because protesters who allegedly set up camp in the park had been threatening Parks workers attempting to do routine maintenance.
The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported the sweep announcement came after more pressure from neighborhood businesses and property owners. That feels a bit more believable than finally reopening one of the neighborhood's most popular parks in the darkest and coldest part of the year. The city is also facing a lawsuit from Cal Anderson encampment dweller Ada Yaeger, which argues Yaeger "and her community have been subjected to repeated harassment… by way of ‘sweeps,’" according to the lawsuit uploaded by Seattle City Council Insight.
The anticipation hung heavy in the pre-dawn air on Wednesday. Protesters lined intersections along 11th Avenue with caution tape, upturned trashcans, and a line of cyclists acted as reinforcements. A food truck outside the encampment's mutual aid tent served "resistance blend covfefe," pancakes, and breakfast burritos.
Yet, 7:30 a.m. came and went, and the only sign of the police appeared to be a brief parade of police cars that drove past the north and south ends of the park, red and blue lights flashing. When the lights shone, a man clothed in black bloc near me groaned, "Aw man, I just got my pancakes." He was holding a plate of pancakes. The police didn't leave their vehicles, however.
Throughout the morning, people milled about behind the makeshift barricades. One black bloc member sat on a bench reading The Tent by Margaret Atwood. Others helped the homeless people living in the camp move their belongings into the backs of cars and a rented U-Haul truck in case the police showed. According to Mud, 29, a resident of the encampment, SPD destroyed whatever was in the park in previous encampment sweeps, which was "pretty devastating," he said.
"Recently, it felt like there was going to be a sweep and no one was going to do anything," Mud said. "It feels really cool that the community mobilized to come defend us. We didn't do this."
"It's really nice to see so many people who don't want to see us get swept," Mud continued.
In the lead-up to this morning's supposed sweep, Mud said he was able to check on every tent and ask people if they needed anything. Liberty, 23, another camper said they had seen at least two people living in the encampment leave this morning. Over the last week rumors of an impending sweep circulated around the camp and around 10 to 15 people left, Liberty said. Around 20 tents still stood in the park this morning.
Schulkin with Parks and Rec said outreach workers connected with around 30 people living at the site and connected ten people to shelter options. Center for Disease Control guidelines advise against clearing unsheltered encampments, but Schulkin said this sweep wasn't in violation of those guidelines since the city had 40 free shelter beds in basic and enhanced youth and adult shelters and one tiny home.
Police never came, nor did any Parks and Rec employees. Neither department responded to questions about why the delay occurred or when the sweep would actually take place. Activists speculated that the city was waiting until more people dispersed to clear the park. In many people's minds was a recent six-day stand-off in Portland between activists and police that took place over a foreclosure.
Tiffani McCoy, the lead organizer for Real Change, was unsurprised that the city was still conducting sweeps even after it dissolved the Navigation Team, the team of SPD officers and Human Services Department employees who swept encampments in the past, and before the new outreach solution (the HOPE team) is stood up.
"We know the guidelines for sweeps during COVID, we know people are living in desperate situations, and in economically precarious times," McCoy said in a text. "Humans are going to meet their needs in whatever way they can. Instead of meeting those needs for shelter, [the city] keeps up this charade of sweeping humans so it looks like the city is doing 'something.'"
Whatever happens, "they can't split us up," Liberty said, "we're going to come back."