Federal judge weighs sweep of homeless camp in Seattle park

SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge is considering whether to temporarily block Seattle officials from removing a homeless encampment from a city park.

Officials intended to clear Cal Anderson Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood Wednesday morning, but they postponed the sweep after makeshift barriers went up and dozens of black clad protesters arrived.

One resident, Ada Yeager, sued, alleging that a sweep would violate her civil rights, include rights to due process before being deprived of property, and that the park was targeted for a sweep for political reasons because residents have criticized officials and police.

Yeager’s attorney, Braden Pence, told U.S. District Judge Richard Jones during a telephone arguments Wednesday evening that the sweep would “hurt everyone” and risk spreading COVID.

“Unhoused people have the right to survive,” he said.

Ghazal Sharifi, a lawyer for the city, told the judge that city officials have faced threats at the park, that fires and other dangerous conditions persist, and that shelter beds are available for those staying there.

Further, Sharifi said, Yeager had not met the legal requirements for obtaining a temporary restraining order, including that the party requesting the order is likely to win the case and that they would suffer irreparable harm without it.

Seventeen people had already moved from the park into shelter, Sharifi said, adding that the city would not delay the sweep for two weeks as Yeager’s counsel requested.

Jones said he intended to rule Thursday.

Entrances to the ball field were glued shut and wooden pallets and metal fencing have been placed around the area. Inside, more than 20 tents remained, though most campers had left, The Seattle Times reported. As recently as Tuesday, about twice that number were there.

On a nearby playfield Wednesday, people unassociated with the protest or encampments exercised and walked dogs.

Parks department spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said the city was “currently assessing the site and have created a plan for a multi-day intensive maintenance and cleaning.”

She said the Human Services Department will coordinate a resource tent to offer services, and city-contracted providers will remain on site to offer shelter. City-contracted outreach workers made hotel or shelter referrals ahead of the planned removal, she said.

The Seattle Police Department had said they would be present if asked by the city to accompany park crews.

Some nearby residents have said the encampment has brought crime and filth to the neighborhood and hope a sweep will make a difference.

“We want to be empathetic and tolerant,” Michael Winter, a longtime neighbor of the park, said. “At the same time, there’s a health and safety factor.”