Is the city going to sweep the Cal Anderson Park homeless encampment or not? For now, the answer is still a big question mark. The decision hinges on whether U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones decides to go forward with a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed against the city yesterday.
The decision was supposed to come out this morning. It still hasn't. The court is edging us. However, new information provided by the city this afternoon may sway the decision in the city's favor.
UPDATE 4:30 PM: The court has denied the TRO. Kevin Schofield of Seattle City Council Insight uploaded a copy here. We're reviewing it and will have more on the blog later tonight.
Ada Yaeger, an unhoused person living in Cal Anderson Park, filed a lawsuit against the city yesterday saying sweeps at Cal Anderson violated her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and that she suffered “general and special damages."
According to Ghazal Sharifi, the city's attorney, the city only found out about the lawsuit via Twitter (the Seattle City Attorney's Office specified that they saw Crosscut reporter David Kroman's tweets). Sharifi and her team scraped together a case and argued it in a hearing with Jones and Yaeger's lawyer Braden Pence. Sharifi said the city wanted to move ahead "immediately" with a sweep since it claimed the encampment is a "public health hazard." Recent threats against city employees have made the city worried that "the situation" in the park could turn "fatal."
If Jones chooses to move forward with the TRO, the process could, at the least, drag on for multiple days. If Pence's case is successful, he and Yaeger would like to see the sweep stalled until at least Jan. 15—if not forever.
Sharifi presented evidence that outreach workers are providing shelter to encampment dwellers. As of yesterday, 17 people living in the park took the city up on offers for shelter. Today, the number was 20, according to a document Sharifi filed with the court.
One of the people who received shelter was Yaeger, the defendant in the case. Yaeger is in the process of being relocated to a tiny home in the city, Sharifi wrote.
Yesterday, the city said they connected 17 people to shelter, up from 14 on Wednesday morning.
— nathalie graham (@gramsofgnats) December 17, 2020
This development could complicate things, David Perez, an attorney with the Perkins Coie Law Firm, explained to me.
"If the city has moved her into housing and if the city has arranged for her belongings to be transported there then whatever injuries she was alleging are sort of moot," Perez suggested. "Now no one’s kicking down your tent, they’re giving you a better option." In effect, Yaeger is taking the city up on the same offer as the other people who chose to go to a shelter instead of remaining in the park.
This development supports the city's argument that they've taken their time, given multiple warnings, and done outreach in the park while adding to the narrative that the people who remain in Cal Anderson are a small, core group of people refusing shelter, Perez explained. However, Perez said, the loose end of the argument is timing. Why is the city choosing to sweep now?
The encampment has existed for months. The city will need to prove "some triggering events or if there’s some sudden interest that wasn’t there last week or two months ago," Perez said. Sharifi argues the timing is related to alleged threats encampment dwellers made against Parks and Recreation employees attempting to do routine maintenance on the park.
The other detail that doesn't work in the city's favor is the Fourth Amendment case and the preservation of people's property, Perez said. Sharifi said the city keeps people's belongings during the sweep, but that workers throw away anything that is "contaminated" or "wet." It's December. Everything is wet. If Jones rules in the city's favor, he will likely include an order requiring the city to do certain things, probably related to property, Perez hypothesized.
For now, the park remains unswept, activists claims to be occupying a nearby vacant house, and the helicopters have stopped circling over the neighborhood for the time being. Jones' ruling could come at any time.