April 7, 1995 in Nation/World

‘Apartment Dwellers’ Under Bridge Evicted City Cleans Out Area After Transients Leave Well-Equipped Camp

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The spread was impressive: a river view, three open bedrooms and a closed-off bedroom equipped with carpet, an entertainment center, a gas heater and a portable stove.

There was only one problem, as far as the city was concerned. The living arrangements were outside, underneath the south side of the Monroe Street Bridge.

“These people need someplace to live, but this place isn’t it,” said Mark Serbousek, the city’s bridge engineer.

The homeless camp beneath the bridge was cleaned up Thursday in a combined effort by the city’s police department, code enforcement and bridges division.

The residents probably had lived in the makeshift commune almost a year, workers said.

Three mattresses lay in the open, between bridge supports. In another space, someone had created a private room by hanging tarps between two concrete bridge supports.

“This looked like a little apartment,” one city worker said.

The carpeted area had a mattress, a lantern, a gas heater, a portable stove and a portable stereo. Pictures of naked women were on the walls, along with a picture of the heavy metal band Slayer.

The dwellers not only were trespassing, but their presence also prevented maintenance work underneath the bridges, Serbousek said. Bridges citywide also have sustained fire damage because of fires lit in homeless camps, he said.

Three Spokane police officers showed up under the bridge at 8:15 a.m. Thursday and told the six people sleeping there that they’d have to gather their possessions and leave, Officer Robert Grandinetti said. They were directed to the Union Gospel Mission.

One was a juvenile runaway. Another was a known drug-user, Grandinetti said. A third allegedly was a registered sex offender.

“It’s illegal to live here, without city water, sewers,” Grandinetti said. “They’re trespassing. We’ve got the laws, the ordinances to uphold. There is no notice. They just have to leave right away.”

Police gave them about an hour to grab their possessions, Grandinetti said. Other city workers said it was closer to 10 minutes.

Regardless, the homeless left a lot behind. City workers donned respirator masks before raking out mounds of trash and human excrement just beneath the bridge, above the area where the mattresses were kept.

Workers also carted away loads of wooden pallets, a bicycle, mattresses, pornographic magazines and one stuffed animal - a large pink bear.

A crane on Monroe Street lifted the bagged trash into dump trucks. The material was to be incinerated.

As workers pushed material out from beneath the bridge, a woman in a Tasmanian devil T-shirt grabbed her sleeping bag and a T-shirt. She declined to give her name and wondered where her “old man” was.

“Why should I … talk to you?” the woman asked. “You’re … not going to help me out.”

Vickie Countryman, an AIDS outreach worker, said she used to work with the homeless under the bridge when she worked with the YWCA homeless school.

“These were actually families and homes,” she said. “A couple of families staked out territories. I know of at least one family living there that went to the YWCA with kids.”

Grandinetti said that wasn’t the case with the people found Thursday.

“The people we run into are not families,” Grandinetti said.

The police usually sweep through homeless living areas once or twice a month in the summertime, he said.

Bob Peeler, the homeless coordinator for Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs, said he wished the city had told him about the cleanup operation. His organization refers homeless people to shelters and agencies that can help them.

“It would have been great if they would have let us know so we could at least be down there to offer some assistance,” Peeler said.


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