The City of Spokane sent a letter to the State Department of Transportation requesting action regarding a cooling tent built on WSDOT property for the Camp Hope homeless population.
The tent has fans and misters in an attempt to keep the hundreds of people living in the homeless encampment along Second Avenue and Ray Street, known as Camp Hope, cooler during the heat wave from this week. And while the WSDOT does not officially authorize the tent’s existence, state officials have no plans to shut it down as of yet, reflecting its overall approach with Camp Hope itself.
In a letter dated Wednesday to WSDOT, however, Spokane Fire Department Fire Marshal Lance Dahl identified the chill tent as an “illegally constructed temporary structure” and called for its removal.
Failure to remove the tent by 9 a.m. Monday could result in a civil penalty of $536 for each day the structure remains in place after the deadline, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Spokesman-Review.
In an interview Thursday, Dahl said the notice was sent as a request for the WSDOT to take responsibility for the situation — either officially allowing the tent to exist, so the city could issue a permit to the operators, or by entering the tent outside the property.
“And the way we move forward is based on the WSDOT position,” he said.
The cooling tent itself is owned and operated without local or state funding by the nonprofit organization Jewels Helping Hands, which oversees the hundreds of people living at Camp Hope. The Empire Health Foundation has agreed to fund Jewels with approximately $21,000 for tent staffing and operating costs through next week.
Temporary structures — especially tents with sides of at least 400 square feet — need a permit from the city fire marshal to operate under the fire code, Dahl said. The chill tent is 1,950 square feet.
City spokeswoman Kirstin Davis said the city, by law, however, cannot issue permits without WSDOT permission for chill tent activities.
“We get requests all the time for all kinds of tents to be pitched, so it’s important to be consistent and follow the laws,” Davis said. “The laws are in place for the safety and health of people. We are trying to balance that in this difficult situation.
The WSDOT does not have a response to the fire marshal’s letter at this time, according to a spokesperson.
The letter says the WSDOT “may” face the $536 per day violation if the tent is not removed by Monday morning.
“‘May’ is always a hurdle,” Dahl said. “If we are going to issue tickets on resumption or in the event of non-result or clarification of a request when we write a notice of violation, we will use a term like “will”. “May” implies that if we cannot not reach a resolution acceptable to the city, state fire code, landlord, and Jewels Helping Hands, the possibility of writing a civil infraction is always there.
Discussions among city leaders have included ideas about moving the chill tent elsewhere, such as to a city right-of-way or part of the Hive Library parking lot, as they consider all options, Davis said. .
“In light of the heat wave and obviously the purpose of the tent, the WSDOT notice of violation and requesting that it be taken down on Monday when temperatures are expected to return to normal, that seemed like common ground for handle it as best we could,” she said.
With highs of 100 degrees or more expected throughout the weekend, the National Weather Service declared an excessive heat warning in effect until 11 p.m. Sunday. Temperatures are expected to drop into the low to mid-90s on Monday before falling into the 80s for the rest of the week.
The city administration would “absolutely” prefer that Camp Hope residents use the city’s libraries as cooling centers, Davis said. The city has expanded the hours of the Central, Shadle Park, Liberty Park and Hillyard libraries to serve as chill centers through Sunday.
The closest to Camp Hope, Liberty Park, is about a mile away.
Council chairman Breean Beggs said it was unrealistic to expect people at the encampment to use the libraries, as many did not want to leave the immediate area of the encampment as they did not have no safe place to store their belongings.
“I don’t know why the city is hostile to a cooling tent given that there are 600 very vulnerable people right there,” Beggs said. “These people don’t go to the library. I don’t think library patrons would be excited if 600 people descended on them from Camp Hope.
The WSDOT confirmed that the Spokane City Council had discussed a possible rental agreement to resolve the situation. Beggs said that could involve the city or Empire Health leasing the property to “legitimize” the cooling tent for WSDOT purposes.
Action could possibly take place on a lease at Monday’s city council meeting, while Beggs said Empire Health has requested additional funding for staff and security to keep the cooling center operational for another ” a few weeks,” estimating the cost at $1,800 per day.