TONIGHT: City council to vote on reining in police involvement at Camp Hope

The resolution comes the same day a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing a sweep of the encampment.

The resolution comes the same day a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing a sweep of the encampment.

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Just hours after a federal court judge in Eastern Washington granted a temporary restraining order preventing a law enforcement sweep of Camp Hope on Monday, the Spokane City Council is moving to prevent city resources from contributing to any sweep without a court order. A resolution introduced and debated by council members in the Urban Experience Committee meeting this afternoon, seeks to prevent city police or other staff from participating in a sweep barring changes in the legal case against the city and county.

The resolution will be voted on at tonight’s city council meeting, which begins at 6 pm.

Under the resolution, if city staff — say Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, for example — were to order police officers to support the Sheriff’s department in sweeping the camp without a court order or the permission of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which owns the land, the city would not provide them any legal defense. The resolution is part of an ongoing struggle between the liberal majority on the city council, who have broadly supported the state’s process of working with local organizations to close the encampment and move people into housing, and Mayor Nadine Woodward who has stood with outgoing Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich in calling for an expedited removal of the camp.

Council member Lori Kinnear said that instead of charting a path of action, this resolution was meant to limit the liability of the city if a sweep occurs by keeping Spokane police out of it. The city of Spokane was sued in 2019 for sweeping the original Camp Hope protest in 2018. For more on that case, the original encampment and the politics surrounding it, check out this Daniel Walters piece from 2019.

This afternoon’s debate over the resolution was driven by concerns from conservative council members Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart, who want to see the camp resolved faster than the ongoing state housing process and voiced the frustrations of residents and businesses in the surrounding area. Bingle and Cathcart represent the East Central neighborhood where the encampment is located.

“The impacts in that neighborhood are going to be felt for decades,” said Bingle. “We’ve basically sacrificed the health of that neighborhood for the health of the whole city.”

Bingle said the council should be asking the state for an additional $30-40 million of state investment and acknowledged the lack of affordable housing options for people at the encampment to move into. “It’s a years-long process because those units don’t exist and it’s going to take us some time to get permanent housing built,” he said.

Kinnear countered that this resolution wasn’t about the big picture of responding to the camp as much as a way to prevent city resources from being used in legally questionable ways. “We’re talking about legally what we can and cannot do,” she said. “This isn’t about what we want to do.”

Cathcart said the city isn’t addressing the needs of the community around the camp by letting the state’s ongoing rehousing process play out. “What I think is lacking here is any sort of urgency,” he said. “I think this maintains the status quo.”

At noon today, WSDOT sent out an update on Camp Hope stating that the population of Camp Hope is currently 377, down approximately 20% in the five weeks since the state’s first official census on Nov. 4 found 467 people living there. That decrease comes as the Catalyst project, run by Catholic Charities, is just beginning to accept residents and will eventually house between 100 and 120 people.

Even with the Trent shelter’s expanded capacity of 350 and those additional beds at the Catalyst project, there still isn’t enough capacity in the system to house everyone at the encampment.

In today’s meeting, Cathcart proposed the city look into other alternatives to move people out of the camp, including the Geiger Corrections Facility, which has struggled with staffing shortages in recent months.

“The county may shut down Geiger. Can we eliminate some of the negative optics of that, but use that as a facility that has all the indoor things that we need to help keep people safe and healthy?” Cathcart said. “Maybe that’s an option, but it just doesn’t feel like anybody has this urgent desire to fix this and fix it right away.”

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