Talking Camp Hope, housing and more with Gov. Jay Inslee

Inslee sat down with RANGE today to discuss the state’s Camp Hope response, getting more homes built in Washington and increasing behavioral health resources.

Inslee sat down with RANGE today to discuss the state’s Camp Hope response, getting more homes built in Washington and increasing behavioral health resources.

Today, on a brief trip to Spokane to visit Thrive International — the converted Quality Inn where Ukrainian refugees are being resettled — and the Podium sports complex, Gov. Jay Inslee visited the RANGE office for a half-hour interview. The interview, like much of our coverage, focused on key areas of concern for Spokane: homelessness, affordable housing and behavioral health.

Gov. Inslee repeatedly called for increased investment in home building from the state legislature and even direct housing development by the state. In focusing on the need for more housing everywhere, Inslee dismissed the idea that the state owes a special debt to the East Central neighborhood where Camp Hope has disrupted residents and businesses for nearly a year and a half. In East Central, infrastructure development displaced residents of the historically Black and diverse community and will continue to as homes are demolished to make way for the North-South Freeway, an infrastructure project which Gov. Inslee said he supports.

The Governor also touted his connections to Eastern Washington, called for additional investments and initiatives to bolster the state’s behavioral health workforce, and called attention to conflict with neighboring Idaho over the state’s support of the women’s right to abortion.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview in our podcast.

RANGE: What prompted your trip to Spokane today?

Gov. Jay Inslee: Well, we’re doing a variety of things. We’re looking at a sports center, we’re talking to another media outlet and we’re going to see the Thrive project. We look for any excuse to come to Spokane.

RANGE: There’s been a lot of back and forth and kind of finger-pointing regarding Camp Hope between the city, the county and the state. How would you characterize your relationship with local leadership here in Spokane?

JI: We’re always looking for the positive. So, we think that there’s some good things happening. First off, no matter what has happened we’re heading in the right direction on Camp Hope. We’ve gone from 650 people down to about maybe 55 or so.

So regardless of this sturm und drang that Ozzie caused and all those problems, we’re making real progress and I’d like to focus on that. I was really excited about the training program, you saw like 20 people got their certificates to be on the road to getting a new career [Editor’s note: 10 of the 12 Camp Hope residents graduated from the Pre-Employment Preparation Program]. To me that’s such a positive thing to people to get their feet underneath them and, and really move forward.

We’ve had positive developments going into the Catalyst building to get sustainable housing for folks. I know that there’s been a lot of ink spilled, but the fact is we’re making progress and I think that’s what I want to focus on. I think the situation now is: we were pleased that the court ordered the city to provide police protection. We’ve been disappointed that the city has refused to provide police protection. That’s been a problem. It’s created additional risk. We’ve been very disappointed in the city in that regard.

But I prefer to focus on the positive. Now that we’re talking to the city it’s frequent discussions to talk about how to move the remaining small number of people who are still there.

It has been our goal to get people into sustainable housing and close the camp as soon as we possibly can. And, I think that’s the right position. So, anyway, talks are continuing, that’s good. We’ll keep it up and we’ll try to focus on the positive.

RANGE: In focusing on the positive. Do you think that so far, with the almost $25 million investment, that the right-of-way project here in Spokane has been a success?

JI: Well, you never declare it a success till the buzzer has gone off at the end of the game. We’re in the process, but we’ve made a lot of progress. When you go from 650 people living in very difficult conditions to 55 — that’s a lot of progress that has been made. A lot of these folks have significant challenges as well, so it’s not the easiest thing to do.

And we’ve been trying to achieve the goal of removing the camp, but also have a solution so they don’t just end up back on the street in somebody else’s neighborhood. We’ve always believed it really wasn’t a solution to move people out of Camp Hope and then into somebody’s park or on their corner. That’s not what we’re really after here.

So that would’ve been the facial “success,” but we don’t consider that success just moving people from one neighborhood to another — making your problem somebody else’s problem is not really a solution. So, I think we’ve had a lot of progress on that, getting people into housing rather than just getting them from one corner to another. The fact is if you don’t provide housing that they will accept, they just end up outside somewhere else. We’ve had considerable success with that strategy.

RANGE: Since the badging has gone in at the camp and the fences have gone up, more than half of the people who have left Camp Hope are unaccounted for. So, they’re not in housing. What do you see as the continuing role of the state in the local homelessness response here in Spokane?

JI: Well, the most important thing is — it doesn’t sound like rocket science — but it needs to be said over and over and over again: We’ve got to build housing. We simply do not have enough housing for people in the state of Washington.

We’ve had about a million people move in, but we’ve only built about 340,000 housing units in just over the last decade. So, the fundamental problem: we don’t have housing. We have to build housing.

And, we particularly have to do two things: One, we have to make more lots available for building and in the legislature this year I think we are gonna make progress on this to remove some of the unnecessary zoning restrictions that prevent us from actually building housing. Number two: We have to have a very substantial public investment to finance the housing that the private capital markets will not finance. And the fact is they will not finance housing for people in the bottom 20% of the economic pyramid.

It won’t happen unless the public makes these investments.

So, we’ve got to build housing, we’ve got to build all kinds of different housing: from tiny housing villages, to converted motels as fast as we can to permanent multi-story apartments, to single-family dwellings. We have to do soup to nuts.

We also have to do it not just for low-income folks, but for working people whose rents now make housing unaffordable to them. So, they have sliding scale buildings that help working people.

One of the things that I think folks have failed to realize is this is not just a homelessness crisis for those who are homeless today, it’s for those who could be homeless tomorrow — who are teachers and engineers and teachers in our early childhood education systems that can’t afford rent.

We have to build what we call the middle housing solution for them as well. These are working people, these are not the people with mental health, chemical addiction problems. So we have to build housing throughout that spectrum. That’s very, very important.

So, we are pushing it in a multi-pronged strategy.

Click here to support our work for just $10/month.

RANGE: Here in Spokane, we’ve been a leader in passing housing density reform. We have the citywide Building Opportunity Choices Act [which legalizes four-plexes city-wide], but if you look at the details of new starts, they’re just really not there yet. Can you talk more about your ideas for really juicing the building of housing?

JI: We’ve gotta build housing when the capital markets are not building it. That’s why I think we ought to do over a billion dollars in this biennium of direct housing development by the state of Washington [here’s a more comprehensive look at Gov. Inslee’s housing spending plan]. So, we’re looking for the legislature to produce that. Now, we would also think it would be a better solution if we had a multi-year proposal to have stability so we can do this on a multi-year basis. We had proposed a way to do that — we’ll still see if the legislature’s gonna do that.

At a minimum, we’ve got to get a billion dollars of housing this biennium so we can move forward because the private capital market will simply not do it. And, the homelessness we’ve experienced, I think, is just grossly unacceptable in the state of Washington.

So that’s what we need to do: build housing.

RANGE: When it comes to the homeless issue in Washington, it seems like because of the way cities enforce camping ordinances, state lands and state right-of-ways have become a de facto place where people have set up shope for better or worse. Would you like to see the state play a more proactive role in stopping the growth of WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation] encampments moving forward?

JI: Yes, and we’re doing that within the realms of the dollars that we’ve been given by the state legislature. I was very aggressive and insistent in the last year to get dollars specifically allocated to allow us to hire the people to go out and remove these encampments. And we’ve now moved over about 500 people off of these encampments on public right-of-ways and into housing solutions.

But we need another very significant investment to continue that effort. We are making substantial progress. It’s very gratifying to see that. We just were moving two of the largest, most problematic encampments in the Seattle area.

We made real progress in Camp Hope. So, we’re making progress on that, but we’re going to need another large investment, in order to give DOT the money it takes. We need to hire people out there to move folks off, get the trash picked up, harden the site to the extent possible so they don’t come back.

You can only do what you’ve been given by the legislature and I was pretty insistent last time that we get money directed to the right-of-ways. Because what was happening is the cities were kind of sweeping people out of their parks, schoolyards and just sending them down to our right-of-ways and so making it DOT’s problem.

That’s not acceptable to us. But, as I’ve said, we have had considerable success on this. We just need an appropriation to be able to continue this work.

People kind of think that you just, you go out there and say, ‘okay, everybody leave,’ and then they leave and everything’s problem solved.

We have hundreds and hundreds of tons of trash that has to get removed — some of it in unhygienic conditions. We have to coordinate with the folks so they can get some additional housing. You just can’t do this with $0 and I can’t print money. I only have available what the legislature gives to WSDOT. So, we’re gonna ask them to step up to the plate and continue to finance these efforts and increase the financing of these efforts.

RANGE: So, even in a place like Spokane, where we have less people living on WSDOT land this year than we did last year, do you still see the need to keep bringing in $25 million a year to Spokane?

JI: It needs to go up actually, because we’re a long ways from a solution. We have to understand that the dynamic is not really working for us. Our economy is becoming more stratified. We’re having more people move in. We have climate refugees moving in from California now.

The private market is not building enough housing. We have to accelerate significantly our efforts and that’s why I’m asking the legislature to step up to the plate. We did about $800 million of housing expenditures in the last biennium. We need to accelerate beyond that in my view.

The dynamics that are creating homelessness — and that’s just not us, it’s many, many other states are experiencing this as well — are becoming more challenging over time. So, we have to respond with something that meets the scale of the challenge. That means we have to increase our investment.

Folks think that somehow these folks are going to get vaporized and just disappear. It’s not going to happen and it wouldn’t be humane if it did. So, this investment is necessary if we’re going to solve the problem.

RANGE: Speaking of investments and the history of state investments in the Spokane area. The I-90 and then more recently the North-South freeway projects have displaced a lot of people in the East Central neighborhood. You can draw a through-line from the 500 or so units of housing that were removed on the (WSDOT) land that is now Camp Hope. What do you see moving forward as the state’s responsibility, when it’s building transportation infrastructure projects, to make sure that housing is in place and that people who are being displaced by these projects have a place to land?

JI: I guess I would say it’s the same responsibility for housing in general. I don’t think it’s less or more.

We need more housing in the state of Washington. There’s many reasons, this is just one of them. I don’t think there’s like a unified one house for one house thing that the state has an obligation for. But, what we do need is substantial, more investment in housing.

I’m supportive of continuing the North-South project. We need the legislators to be responsible to actually finance these projects and fund them. They’re trying to do it on the cheap and not recognizing that we only can get so much done with so much money. So, I’m actually supportive of that project. I hope it can continue to move forward.

RANGE: Really thinking about the East Central neighborhood. It’s a historically Black neighborhood. It continues to be a minority and low-income neighborhood. What do you think the state owes that neighborhood for not just the legacy of displacement from infrastructure projects, but also the last 18 months or so of Camp Hope?

JI: It’s what we owe everyone in the state of Washington, which is more housing for everyone.

So, I wouldn’t make it particular to any one neighborhood or group of residents. We need more housing for people who have mental health problems. We need more housing for people with chemical addiction problems. We need more housing for people who are displaced by infrastructure, whether it’s in a new apartment building or a freeway or whatever it is. We need more working housing for families. And, we need the cooperation of cities to help us do this.

You mentioned the relationship with our cities. We need them to assist us rather than fight us. Like, when there’s a problem, allow us to get help from the police force, which we didn’t have until the judge ordered him to do it. We need that kind of help.

Now that Ozzie’s left town things are easier in that regard. And, the court has ordered Spokane now to provide police protection. So, that’s good. But we shouldn’t have to have a court order to get police protection.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to RANGE on Wednesday, April 5 in Spokane, WA. (Photo by Erick Doxey)

RANGE: A lot of the visible part of homelessness is also associated with mental health and chemical addiction. What would you like to see in terms of building capacity for the workforce of people who are on the front lines of serving those communities?

JI: Well, we have to increase the pipeline of psychologists, mental health therapists, chemical condition treatment people.

We have to increase that pipeline. We are doing that. I just got off a call with my staff about trying to accelerate the approval of licenses for psychologists, for instance, that we have a shortage of. So we’re doing quite a number of things to accelerate that pipeline, including increasing financial aid for those going to college. And we now have the best financial aid program in the country to allow people to actually finance college.

We’ve increased the number of slots for nursing staff, for folks who can serve at our mental health facilities. We’re building a whole slew of new community-based mental health clinics. We’re building crisis community centers. We’re approaching a new way to provide mental health assessments for people who are in custody.

So, we need to do that. We are doing that. This can’t be done in 24 hours, unfortunately. So we understand that task. And I think if the legislature will join me in this effort, I think we’re going to make progress.

RANGE: What are your thoughts on how the legislative session is going so far and whether or not we’re going to get stuff like zoning reform or these major investments in housing?

JI: I feel very good about it at the moment. There’s a lot of balls in the air of course, but some of the major things I believe we will make real progress on. I think we will make real progress on housing financing. I think we will make progress on removing some unnecessary zoning restrictions. I think we will make progress on how we provide mental health for people.

I feel good about the session to date, but stay tuned. Until you hit the last basket, the game’s not over.

RANGE: Zooming back out to that regional relationship. Sometimes Eastern Washington can feel kind of disconnected from what’s happening on the west side of the state. What role do you see for your administration or the state government in kind of building connections between Eastern Washington and the west side and Olympia?

JI: Well, this is not a problem for me because I’m as connected to Eastern Washington as I am to western Washington.

I’ve spent 20 years raising my three sons in hayfields and the apple orchards of Selah, Washington. So a lot of my formative adult years are in Eastern Washington. You can take the boy out of Eastern Washington, but you can’t take the Eastern Washington out of the boy. So, I feel very at home and every time I’m here, I realize what, what a great community Spokane is.

It’s got so much going for it on a positive basis. It’s just a really exciting community. So, I guess one good thing is having a governor who has personal experience here. That’s one good thing as far as keeping that relationship going. I’m here a lot physically, as you know. Those are the things, that can really help and I think we’ve been pretty successful at that.

RANGE: You touched earlier on increasing behavioral health resources. Obviously, the Trueblood decision looms large. We regularly have more than a dozen people here in Spokane awaiting competency evaluations. What do you see as the state of capacity in the state’s mental health system, specifically with regard to competency evaluation and getting people into help and not jailed indefinitely?

JI: Well, we have significantly increased our capacity, but unfortunately the demand has exploded for these services. It’s like doubled in the last 10 years, and so we have to continue our arc of increasing that capacity, which we are doing in quite a number of ways.

We have quite a number of facilities coming online in the next couple of years. We’re building a whole new hospital at Western State. We are increasing our capacity. Unfortunately, it’s sort of like COVID, it just hit us like a tidal wave. The mental health challenges of people who are now in the criminal justice system have just exploded and we have not been able to keep up with that — not for lack of trying, not for lack of large investments, not a lack of my intense interest in this subject.

We’re constantly looking: is there some way to accelerate building capacity? And I’m rather demanding of our staff to look for those options and we’re exploring every known option. Now, we’ve been frustrated a couple times because the court has not accepted some of our options that I think actually makes sense.

So we’ve been frustrated by that. We are going to, I hope, have legislation this year that will allow us to do a new way of providing services for people who are in custody. I think this is going to help people. So we are going to have a bill, I hope is gonna pass, to give us a new method of providing services for people.

RANGE reporter Carl Segerstrom interviews Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday, April 5 in Spokane, WA. (Photo by Erick Doxey)

RANGE: Is there anything that you wanted to touch on in closing?

JI: One thing, because we’re here in Spokane, we have this new threat from Idaho. [There’s] a bill pending on the governor’s desk which would adversely affect not only Idaho residents, but also Washington residents because it would potentially criminalize people’s stepping foot in Idaho if they then return and exercise a woman’s right of choice.

I just wrote a letter to the governor yesterday, strongly urging to veto that bill because I don’t think Idaho should be able to control what happens in the state of Washington. We have the right of choice in our state and Idaho is somehow trying to criminalize a woman having an abortion in the state of Washington. Their control of the situation ought to stop at their border. The legislature in Idaho is not the legislature of Washington and they’re trying to reach their arms in to control what happens to a woman’s right of choice in Washington.

I’m very concerned about this, so I urged him to veto it. We’ll see what happens, but I think this very much jeopardizes what I consider a constitutional right to travel across state lines and he wants to sort of tell people they can’t leave Idaho once they’re there.

You take your niece to Coeur d’Alene for the weekend and all of a sudden he wants to prosecute you criminally if you return to Washington and the woman then exercises her right of choice. That’s unacceptable to us. So, we are alert to these challenges.

And you may have heard yesterday we just bought a stock in Mifepristone so that if the Trump-appointed judge in Texas shuts down the manufacturer, we will have a three-year supply available to women in Washington state. This is unfortunately a continuing effort to take away women’s right of choice in the state of Washington, which we’re resisting.

RANGE: I wonder in addition to trying to protect that right, if you see any need to invest in more facilities that offer maternal care? In Sandpoint, Idaho, they just lost their only OBGYN. Do you see a role of Washington in providing safe maternal care in those border areas?

JI: We try to help our neighbors who are in Idaho just like we did during COVID. Unfortunately, Idaho did not take what I considered reasonable measures to protect their citizens. As a result, people got sick of COVID, but we didn’t turn away, we treated him in Spokane hospitals, even though the Idaho politicians were not, in my view, responsible.

But we wanted to continue to treat people from Idaho and I think that would be our current intention. I think we generally, at least at the moment, have been able to have that capacity. But access to Mifepristone is a very important part of that. I think about 60% of abortions are pharmaceutical at this point, so having access to that medication is the best way to provide that capacity and we’ve assured that now for several years, even if the Trump appointee —- makes an inappropriate decision.

We believe everybody deserves access to news that impacts our community.

But we can’t do that without our supporters. Help us bring news to everyone for just $10/month.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top