The city of Seattle will pay $10,000 as part of a settlement agreement to a woman who sued the city in federal court over its plan to remove her tent from Cal Anderson Park last December.
The lawsuit from Ada Yeager, who said she had been living in the park since last June, questioned the constitutionality of the city’s controversial practice of removing homeless encampments. It also added a new wrinkle to an escalating conflict at Cal Anderson Park this winter as protesters blockaded part of the park in an attempt to stop the city from clearing out homeless people and activists.
The charge at the heart of Yeager’s suit argued that giving Yeager and others 48-hours notice to remove their belongings from the park violated their civil rights through “warrantless seizure and destruction of personal property,” among other claims.
Critics of the city’s encampment removals have argued in the past that seizing people’s belongings during these clean-ups violated their constitutional rights. Data from the city itself has shown that while the city claims to store people’s belongings, few people get important items back — including identification documents, medication and medical devices.
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of two homeless plaintiffs arguing this point was dismissed last June after the attorneys lost contact with their clients.
In addition to requesting damages, Yeager’s lawsuit asked the court for an emergency restraining order to halt the imminent removal of tents. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones denied the request.
Two days after the lawsuit was filed, the city cleared homeless people and protesters from the park for the third time since the closure of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP. Since the closure of the CHOP, the park had become a flashpoint for confrontations with police in near-nightly protests. Activists also temporarily occupied a city rental facility to distribute supplies to homeless people there.
The city’s stance toward the encampment of protesters and homeless people, however, was contradicted at least once last summer when Seattle police officers directed a homeless person to the protesters in the park between encampment removals, concluding it was one of the few places that person could get food and clothes during the pandemic.
Yeager said she ended up in Seattle, where her partner is originally from, after living in Texas. The coronavirus pandemic and bad luck left her and her partner with few places to turn, Yeager said, and the community at Cal Anderson took them in. Since the park was cleared, Yeager worked with city officials to relocate to a tiny home operated by city-contracted nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute.
“This case was an opportunity to recoup some of the losses for me and my community and possibly to help prevent future sweeps,” Yeager said. “We decided to settle since it would be a long time until we could go to trial and the settlement could immediately provide some relief or resources for the unhoused in Seattle.”
The city opted to settle “to avoid the time and expense of further litigation,” according to a spokesperson for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.
Braden Pence, one of the attorneys representing Yeager, believes there’s still a need for more litigation on the issue. A video taken during the encampment removal from a KOMO news helicopter showed the city clearing Yeager’s tent, Pence said.
All Yeager was able to reclaim from the city was an umbrella and a bottle opener still inside the packaging.
“The city was able to wiggle out of this one,” Pence said.