State leaders blast city, pump brakes on Camp Hope sweep plan

The state dismissed the city’s deadlines on the same day the city renewed demands the shelter on WSDOT property be removed.

The state dismissed the city’s deadlines on the same day the city renewed demands the shelter on WSDOT property be removed.

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In a strongly worded rebuke, state agency leaders took the city to task for playing politics and failing to work on constructive solutions for Camp Hope. The September 20 public letter, signed by the administrators of Washington State Department of  Transportation (WSDOT), Commerce Department and State Patrol, comes in response to a September 8 notice from the city that set a mid-October deadline for the removal of the camp and notified the state that the camp would be classified as a nuisance property.

On the same day the state responded to the city’s timeline, the fire marshal also issued a new warning about the ongoing operation of the tent erected across the street from Camp Hope as a cooling shelter in late July. That letter said that the large tent, which was converted to a supply tent and host site for outreach services as the threat of extreme heat lessened, must be brought down by September 22 or face daily fines of $536.

“We are not taking down the tent,” said Julie Garcia, the founder and executive director of Jewels Helping Hands, which helps Camp Hope operate.

This recent volley of letters is part of an ongoing blame game between the city administration and state agencies. Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward has repeatedly expressed frustration with the state for allowing the encampment to grow on state land. The state has countered that the city’s inadequate response to the homelessness crisis led to the creation of Camp Hope in the first place, and that they won’t disband the camp until local leaders bring more housing and shelter options online.

The state’s letter has multiple challenges to the city’s leadership and its role in moving people forward from Camp Hope. “Sadly, to date the city seems more preoccupied with blaming the state for the problem it ultimately played a hand in creating and not acknowledging its own roles and responsibilities regarding residents of its own city,” the letter read. It also calls out the mayor more directly, “Continuing to blame the state does not actually make that narrative true no matter how many times you repeat it to the press and elsewhere. The city — starting with the Mayor — is more preoccupied by optics than action.”

Beyond the rhetoric and challenge to the city’s leadership on this issue, the letter shows the state taking a more active role in policing and beginning the process of moving people off of the encampment — a role the city was clearly pressuring the state to step into earlier this month.

WSDOT-WSP-Commerce Response to City of Spokane by RANGE on Scribd

In the letter, the state outlines the next steps it plans to take at Camp Hope. “Initial tasks would include fencing, RV removal, badging and a curfew to help address safety and security challenges felt within and outside of the camp. This work starts the process for strategically decreasing the size and footprint of Camp Hope, while transitioning people to shelter/housing alternatives.”

WSDOT responded to follow-up questions about the timing of state action by saying that the plans outlined in the letter are preliminary and that details will be provided later. In the letter, the state made clear that the city’s October 14 deadline for removal of the camp wasn’t being considered. “Not only are these deadlines completely unrealistic given the scope of this issue and current lack of housing capacity, but without time to provide adequate outreach, it sets up those living within the camp for failure.”

City spokesman Brian Coddington said that there’s been confusion over the nuisance property process and that the city does not expect the camp to be removed by mid-October. He said the city and WSDOT are meeting tomorrow to discuss the status of the property and next steps. “It’s a challenging and complex issue and we expect that conversation to happen beginning tomorrow,” Coddington said.

While some of the actions the state plans to carry out to secure and begin dispersing the camp, like putting up additional fencing and enforcing a curfew, are self-explanatory, badging requires a touch of explanation. According to WSDOT spokesperson Elizabeth Bousley:

“Badging is providing Camp Hope identification badges to those currently living within Camp Hope. This is not [an] official ID and doesn’t require legal names. It is a proven community safety method that helps identify those that are part of the camp (and who are not) which in turns helps understand who needs services, how many people are living within the encampment, and who needs to be worked with in the event of concerns, etc. This is also a community safety measure. This will allow us to know who should and should not be at the site.  We can also follow up with any potential complaints or concerns from neighbors having to do with possible individuals from the camp.”

Julie Garcia, the de facto leader of the camp, said that the processes outlined in the letter are welcomed by the camp community. She said she loves the state plan and that the Camp Hope community has already been informed about the measures the state agencies outlined in the letter. “We’ve already spoken with the camp about all of them. There are very few that are opposed to it,” she said. “It keeps them safe, it keeps the optics up in the neighborhood and it moves them closer to a meaningful solution.”

“These are folks that are ready to participate,” Garcia said. “There are some folks in our camp that aren’t and those folks will probably leave once there’s a curfew put on the camp. But the folks that are truly willing to engage in services — for hope for something better — are willing to participate. They understand, and they’ve asked for a fence for months.”

Garcia also said that the badging program will provide an invaluable way to track data and outcomes for people at the encampment and people experiencing homelessness throughout the community. “We have to have data to know what does or doesn’t work,” she said. “If it’s shown to work, then let’s replicate it over and over and over again until we don’t have people experiencing homelessness in our county.”

Coddington said the city is encouraged that the state is pledging money for the operation of the Trent Shelter and hopes to see more of the projects proposed to Commerce funded in the near future. So far, Commerce has only announced funding for the assessment process and the transitional housing project in West Hills — a project the city proposed and later attempted to distance itself from amidst neighborhood backlash.

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