Agreements clear Central District homeless encampment

In a city twisted with conflicts about how to best deal with homeless encampments, a Central District camp on land part of a $20 million-plus development deal was cleared with pen and paper Monday afternoon.

Members of the Bangasser family and a uniformed SPD officer were inside an empty storefront in 23rd and Union’s Midtown Center to process the paperwork as a line of people who had been camping on the backside of the block-long property filed in to sign agreements, one by one, and pledge never to return to 24th and Spring.

Margaret Delaney, a member of the Bangasser family that has owned the Midtown land for 75 years, confirmed the nature of the agreements but declined to comment further. “It’s been a long day,” she said.

The peculiar hours of contractual activity was the latest strange scene in the changes coming to 23rd and Union after a protracted squabble between members of the Bangasser family ended up in court over how the block should be redeveloped and its place in Black Seattle’s culture and economy. A partial summary judgement granted in the case last week sided with family members seeking to sell the land in a development deal with Lennar Multifamily Communities to create a 405-unit, mixed-use project with nearly 500 parking spots. The court’s decision clarifying ownership of the property also meant the end for the homeless campers on the backside of the block.

The former residents of the camp at 24th and Spring were scrambling Monday to get off the property by the afternoon deadline, carrying what they could, and leaving the rest on sidewalks or piled in a dumpster dropped at the site by the landowners. A giant garbage pile of debris grew in the yard where the camp had made space for about 20 residents.

Not everybody could gather all of their possessions leaving some of the campers exiting the block trying to balance bikes on top of bikes, and bags on top of bags as they laid claim to the left behind goods. Likewise, not everybody living in the camp decided it was prudent to hang around to sign any agreements or be in the area around Seattle Police personnel.

Omari Tahir-Garrett (Image: CHS)

Omari Tahir-Garrett (Image: CHS)

There was also distrust about rumors of payments for the agreements to move. Delaney declined to comment and some of the campers we spoke with said they had not been paid to get off the land. But others said they had received $400 in return for signing the agreement and leaving the camp. There were also rumors of some of the longer tenured residents in the camp receiving larger payments. The stories and busy activity around 24th and Spring and the office across the parking lot turned Midtown Center into a busy whirl of activity. “Noah?” called a voice from inside the Midtown Center space where the signings were taking place. The crowd of campers milling around waiting to sign or waiting to figure out where to go next looked around. Noah left his cat Empress and took his turn inside to sign the agreement.

Outside, some said they were planning to stay in Seattle. Others said a core of the camp was planning to either move to Tacoma or Olympia to continue to protest the lack of resources for homeless people in the state.

At 24th and Spring, Omari Tahir-Garrett laughed when CHS asked if he’d seen anybody get paid to leave a homeless camp before. “I’m a world traveler,” he said, “And I have never seen anything like this city.” He was taking pictures of the pile of refuse left behind by demolition of the camp in front of the house where he lives on Bangasser family land. His UMOJA P.E.A.C.E Center at the site remains even as the camp that made its home there departs. One of Tahir-Garrett’s lawsuits against the family partnership hit a snag but he says he will ultimately prevail in the federal civil rights case he has brought against the Midtown partnership as well as most of the City Council and various City of Seattle departments. In the meantime, he said he won’t be leaving the block.

The Seattle City Council is considering regulating how the city clears homeless encampments. Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Murray is backing a push to shift Seattle anti-homelessness funding from a focus on transitional housing like camps to permanent housing.

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9 thoughts on “Agreements clear Central District homeless encampment

  1. My bet is that the 75 years in possession Bangasser family was around the CD long before Omari or his family arrived post-WWII. Just a thought to keep things in context. My aunt was interned as an American born person of Japanese descent. She was born in 1931 in Seattle and her parents lost their home in the CD in the internment – something post WWII African Americans capitalized on – the stealing of JA homes. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  2. this is tremendously sad. sell-outs are what the Bangasser family are- absolutely unbelievable – historic block is what that is and soon to be forgotten

    • What is sad about it? I’m celebrating! This corner has been a cesspool and I’m glad to see it cleaned up a bit. Next step is to throw a mixed use building on it.

    • I’ve read back at some prior stories, and haven’t found any mention of anything particulary historic about this block. At least nothing that’s still there now, anyway. Maybe Earl’s Cuts, since barber shops are a community meeting place in the black community? But there’s no reason Earl’s can’t be part of a new space in that development. Other than that— a decaying post office bldg, a coffee kiosk, a liquor store, and a corner of homeless encampments next to a ragtag display belonging to a not-right-in-the-head so-called “activist”. What’s to save? The history of the CD is still in the CD, it’s not tied to the shabby buildings on this corner.

    • Neither is is entirely connected to any particular ethnicity. We’d have to start talking about native Americans first if we want to go that route.