Nov. 13 – Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said the city will not empty Camp Hope this week, though she previously said she expects the camp to close by Nov. 15.
Woodward said the deadline imposed on the Washington State Department of Transportation by Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl was still ambitious, not an ultimatum. WSDOT owns the land on which Camp Hope sits along Interstate 90.
“It’s always been the goal for us to work around that date to get it out,” she said. “That doesn’t mean everyone will be gone by that date.”
Woodward said she still wants to move Camp Hope’s 465 residents to homeless shelters in the city as quickly as possible.
Spokane County Mayor and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich have repeatedly changed Camp Hope’s closing times over the past two months.
In early September, Woodward threatened to sue the Department of Transportation if the east Spokane encampment was not cleared by October 14. The state has committed $21 million to house residents of the encampment.
Knezovich said in late September that he would eliminate Camp Hope by mid-October. At Woodward’s request, the sheriff extended his deadline by a month.
Cpl. Mark Gregory, a Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, did not say whether Knezovich still plans to clean up Camp Hope by Tuesday.
“We don’t want to have to go down there,” Gregory said. “We prefer everyone to work together and fix this problem.”
Gregory noted that Catholic Charities Eastern Washington plans to open supportive emergency housing in early December on Sunset Boulevard.
This former Quality Inn will house between 100 and 120 Camp Hope residents, and Gregory said Knezovich is prepared to delay cleaning up the camp until it opens.
“The ultimate goal is to get them into housing,” Gregory said.
Forcibly evicting campers can be legally risky for Spokane and Spokane County.
Late last month, three Camp Hope residents, Jewels Helping Hands and Disability Rights Washington, filed for an injunction in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington, seeking to restrain the city and county from forcibly move campers.
The lawsuit argues that cleaning up the encampment would violate the campers’ constitutional rights. He cites a number of court decisions as evidence, including Martin v. Wooded.
In that case, the U.S. District Court for the Ninth Circuit ruled that governments cannot evict homeless people living on public property without providing them with a shelter bed.
Woodward said the city has adequate housing space to house Camp Hope residents. She said the city can accommodate more than 400 people at its new shelter on Trent Avenue, which is expected to have at least 250 beds.
Nearly 230 people remained at the Trent Avenue shelter Monday night, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington. About 60 of these people were from Camp Hope.
Department of Transportation officials questioned whether Spokane had enough shelter space.
“The timing of the camp closure depends on the availability of several safe and secure housing options for hundreds of people,” the department wrote in a press release Wednesday. “There aren’t enough of those options available in the city or county right now.”
Woodward stressed that she wanted to get Camp Hope residents out of the elements and into the Trent Avenue shelter.
“We have a safe place for people that’s warm, it’s a bed, it’s three meals a day and access to showers,” she said. “People don’t have to freeze in tents.”