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.
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.