Il­le­gal camp­ing by home­less on rise in Spokane

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY REBECCA WHITE Spokesman-re­view SPOKANE, WASH.

Amid pub­lic out­cry over laws pro­hibit­ing camp­ing, sit­ting or sleep­ing on pub­lic prop­erty, city of­fi­cials and po­lice say il­le­gal camp­ing is more wide­spread than it has been.

Di­rec­tor of Parks and Recre­ation Leroy Eadie said the num­ber of camps on park land has in­creased for years and peo­ple are camp­ing longer, some­times over the win­ter, a trend that di­verges from the past. He said the parks depart­ment con­trols about 4,000 acres, half of which are un­de­vel­oped nat­u­ral ar­eas, where most of the camp­ing oc­curs.

Kelly Keenan, di­rec­tor of the city’s Com­mu­nity, Hous­ing and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment, said there were 292 en­camp­ments re­ported on city prop­erty be­tween June and Novem­ber of this year. He said ear­lier data was not avail­able be­cause the depart­ment was not co­or­di­nat­ing with other city de­part­ments un­til this sum­mer.

Capt. Dan Torok, who leads the Spokane Po­lice Depart­ment’s north precinct, echoed Eadie’s com­ments, adding most of the camps on pub­lic prop­erty ex­panded from around the down­town core to north Spokane and usu­ally pro­duced thou­sands of pounds of garbage, hu­man ex­cre­ment and bi­cy­cle parts.

In 2016, there were 66,000 pounds of de­bris hauled away from camps. That num­ber grew to 73,530 pounds in 2018, Parks and Recre­ation spokes­woman Fianna Dick­son said.

This fall, the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals ruled that laws ban­ning camp­ing or sleep­ing on pub­lic prop­erty are un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause they crim­i­nal­ize peo­ple who have nowhere to go. Eadie ar­gued the camp­ing law is con­sti­tu­tional be­cause of its 48-hour no­tice pol­icy and that it can only be en­forced when shel­ter beds are avail­able.

He has also told the

City Coun­cil that if it does change or re­peal the law – a move ac­tivists have called for and Coun­cil­woman Kate Burke has pro­posed – the Parks Depart­ment would con­tinue to en­force the law and ex­ist­ing cur­few rules be­cause the depart­ment is an in­de­pen­dent body un­der the city char­ter.

“We’re hav­ing a hard time as it is con­trol­ling the il­le­gal camp­ing on park lands and pub­lic lands to­day,” he said, “and that could get out of hand pretty eas­ily.”

Peo­ple cited un­der the law are first given a 48hour no­tice to re­move their be­long­ings. If they’re cited, they are sent to com­mu­nity court, where they can be con­nected to hous­ing and other re­sources such as food or be­hav­ior health ser­vices. The law can­not be en­forced, how­ever, if there are no shel­ter beds avail­able for an in­di­vid­ual. For ex­am­ple, if the only beds avail­able across the shel­ter sys­tem are for women at the House of Char­ity, men could not be cited for camp­ing.

The law bar­ring peo­ple from camp­ing on pub­lic lands was used to re­move the protest camp in front of City Hall, known as “Camp Hope,” which grew up around ac­tivist Al­fredo’s Llamedo’s week­long hunger-strike protest of sit-lie and the camp­ing or­di­nances. The pro­test­ers, made up of housed and home­less ac­tivists, con­tin­ued to de­mand a re­peal of both and asked for more home­less re­sources sooner. They camped in front of City Hall for weeks and staged protests down­town dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son.

Burke’s pro­posal to re­peal the sit-lie or­di­nance and law against

camp­ing on pub­lic lands was de­ferred in­def­i­nitely by the City Coun­cil dur­ing a brief­ing ses­sion. Burke ar­gued that in­stead of mak­ing laws to pe­nal­ize peo­ple for camp­ing or sleep­ing on pub­lic prop­erty, they should in­crease the num­ber of pub­lic garbage cans and pub­lic, free bath­rooms around the com­mu­nity.

“It should be a hu­man right to be able to re­lieve your­self,” she said. “We should be able to have a dig­ni­fied place to go to the bath­room, and most of these folks on the streets don’t have any­where to go be­cause you have to pay for some­thing to go to the bath­room at a busi­ness, or if the parks aren’t open, you’re out of luck.”

Burke said even if the rules are con­sti­tu­tional, she be­lieves they cre­ate hu­man rights is­sues.

Coun­cil­man Breean Beggs called a re­peal a “non­starter,” say­ing there are not four votes on the coun­cil to re­peal ei­ther law.

“The prob­lems and the solution are more nu­anced than they’re mes­sag­ing,” he said. “I agree that peo­ple should not be put in jail for sim­ply be­ing home­less. I think most peo­ple agree with that.”

City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ben Stuckart said he doesn’t sup­port re­peal­ing ei­ther law and said the city should fo­cus on writ­ing pol­icy that leads to more af­ford­able hous­ing. He said the camp and pro­test­ers in front of City Hall may have led to some por­tions of the city’s warm­ing cen­ters open­ing sooner, but in some cases, it led to de­lays in the warm­ing cen­ter net­work be­cause it scared some po­ten­tial land­lords or ser­vice providers.

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