Seattle police Friday morning cleared Cal Anderson Park where protesters had occupied a small rental shelter for several days to hand out food and clothing to people living homeless in the park.
Shortly after 8 a.m. officers, some with riot gear and batons, ordered demonstrators and people living homeless in the park to leave. Soon after, officers entered the park, and a cluster of about six tents that had been in the park were removed.
The police and parks departments said seven people on Tuesday had broken into the locked building, which the city rents out as event space, and that the parks department had asked them repeatedly to leave. The park has been closed since June 30, but is regularly used.
For several hours Friday, demonstrators gathered and shouted at police while officers blocked entrances to the park and city crews cleaned the area and locked the building. Police said they arrested four people on investigation of criminal trespass.
By early afternoon, officers left and demonstrators quickly returned to the park and set up a table offering bottled water.
Cal Anderson Park has been an evolving site of protest since early June, first with large demonstrations near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. Later, when police left the precinct, the park was home to aid stations and gardens when the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) formed. In early July, police cleared the CHOP after four shootings in the area killed 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson and 16-year-old Antonio Mays Jr. and injured two others.
Smaller nightly demonstrations have continued throughout the city as protesters have called on Seattle City Hall to cut police funding, redirect money to Black-led organizations and drop charges against protesters.
A small group clashed with police and private security near Cal Anderson Park on Wednesday night, during which one officer was injured and two people were arrested, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported. The latest effort inside a city rental events space, the Cal Anderson Shelterhouse, sprung up this week.
The area has also drawn questions about selective enforcement of park closures and COVID-19 regulations. Although Cal Anderson Park has been closed, it has been regularly used by people walking dogs, socializing and jogging. Last weekend, hundreds of people gathered in the park for a religious gathering led by a California worship leader.
The Seattle parks department said Friday its staff do not have authority to arrest or ticket people, but have been reminding people about the closure. The department does not usually ask for police help “unless there is behavior that is dangerous or destructive,” spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said in an email.
People living homeless have long used Cal Anderson Park as a place to sleep. The removal Friday came amid uncertainty about how Seattle will respond to people living outside in the pandemic and the ensuing city budget woes.
The Seattle City Council recently voted to dismantle the city’s Navigation Team, police and outreach workers who try to refer people to shelter before removing tent camps. Mayor Jenny Durkan opposed the cut. Even without the Navigation Team, police can remove encampments through obstruction laws, and parks crews can remove encampment debris.
Officers who are members of the Navigation Team were on site offering services, according to police. But the action was led by Seattle Parks and Recreation and Seattle police and was “not a Navigation Team action,” said HSD spokesperson Kevin Mundt in a text message. Police did not respond to questions about how many people accepted services.
A group of young people who had been sleeping in the park this week said they were not offered shelter beds before or after police arrived. People interviewed Wednesday said they had not come into contact with any outreach workers from the city.
Deanna Lucero and Rood Resil, who are homeless and have been camping in the park, said police warned on Wednesday that the area would be cleared the next day.
When that didn’t happen, they thought they might be left alone. On Friday, they said officers gave them five minutes to move their belongings and told them to wait near the park to hear about services. By midday, they were still waiting for details.
“It’s like you made a point to kick us out before we can even talk to someone about services,” Lucero said.
Cal Anderson was quieter and safer than other encampments, and the group handing out food had also cleaned the bathroom, Resil said. Lucero and Resil said they worried about group shelters because of COVID-19 and hoped to get a tiny house or permanent housing.
According to police and the parks department, the Cal Anderson shelter house had been locked before a group of about seven people entered it this week. Earlier this week, a group offered clothing, bottled water and menstrual products in the shelter.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, parks staff and police asked the group to leave several times, police said. Officers cleared the park “after conferring with Parks and the Mayor’s Office,” according to a police statement.
An organizer working in the park shelter who gave only her first name, Ali, said Wednesday that once she discovered that people had gotten into the building, she and other volunteers discovered cleaning products, a bathroom, kitchen and first aid supplies. Since then, organizers had been asking people to put on masks before they enter and serving meals three times a day.
“Essentially at the end of the day, this is a building that has a bunch of resources in it,” Ali said. “That was being kept from the community that lives outside here.”
A list labeled “Shelterhouse Occupation Demands” included solar-powered showers, toilets, laundry facilities resources for transgender people, on-site crisis responders and overdose-prevention tools, including a needle exchange.
Rodney Bedwell, 20, said Wednesday he arrived in Seattle three weeks ago after living homeless in Anchorage since he was 14, and he tried getting into shelters, but lost his ID needed for entry. What he saw at the Cal Anderson park shelter was “support,” Bedwell said. “And good food.”
Protests are likely to continue, said demonstrator Derrek Allen Jones II: “Rinse, wash and repeat, just like they do.”
Around 12:30 p.m. Friday, police left and people returned to the park. Two people promptly removed a red park closure sign from the shelterhouse, which appeared to have been boarded up from the inside.