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Sunday, May 26, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Homeless seek vote on camping ban

Homeless campers who were moved off a grassy median in downtown Spokane and are now “camping” near City Hall want to repeal a new ordinance at the November ballot box.

They began collecting signatures Friday on referendum petitions to put the newly signed “transient shelter” ordinance to a vote.

David Bilsland, a leader of homeless protesters and chairman of the group People 4 People, said voters should sign the petition “to ensure that the most vulnerable members of this community are not denied simple shelter against the unforgiving elements of nature.”

City officials note, however, that local homeless shelters have had beds available since the protest against the new ordinance started.

To put the referendum on the ballot, homeless protesters and their supporters will have until Aug. 20 to collect at least 5,143 signatures from city residents who are registered voters. Bilsland said they plan to collect at least 8,000 signatures to have a cushion for those that are invalidated.

They’ll be seeking signatures downtown and in front of grocery stores in a low-budget campaign, he said.

“Being homeless, we work on the weekend,” he said. “Holding up cardboard signs, that’s going to be our shtick.”

They will also have voter forms so local residents who aren’t registered can sign up to vote as well as sign the referendum petition.

Bilsland said he drafted the petition but had the language checked by the city attorney’s office.

Last month, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance that outlaws most types of camping in city parks and on public land. In response, Bilsland and a few other homeless residents set up tents and tarps on the grassy median on Riverside Avenue between the Spokane Club and the Chancery of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane. The protest grew to several dozen “campers” until July 8, when police asked the demonstrators to disperse, and they complied.

Since that time, a handful of homeless protesters have been staying outside the northeast corner of City Hall and across the street in Riverfront Park, where they use restroom facilities. Because of the warm, dry summer weather, they haven’t had to pitch tents, but they do have to protect their belongings from the park’s twice-daily watering schedule.

The ordinance, signed Monday by Mayor Jim West, takes effect Aug. 11.

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