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Complaints grow with tent city

Thu., Nov. 8, 2007

Wednesday marked the second week of an uneasy stalemate between the residents of a working-class neighborhood and the homeless activists camped in a vacant lot there, as police receive almost daily complaints about the tent city in northeast Spokane.

“If they were camped like this on the South Hill, they wouldn’t be there long,” said Christina DesChamps, a resident of nearby Sharp Avenue.

The Spokane School District is now patrolling the crosswalks near the campsite on the southeast corner of Sinto Avenue and Napa Street, a block away from Stevens Elementary School. Wednesday morning, a school district security officer reported to police a suspicious exchange of a car stereo between someone in a car parked on Sinto Avenue and a presumed resident of the tent city.

Also Wednesday a former resident of the tent city told a local television news crew that she was threatened by other campers wielding baseball bats and that she witnessed alcohol and drug use in the camp.

Dave Bilsland, organizer of the demonstration, dismissed both incidents as misunderstandings and said his camp was “being harassed” as a result of the constant calls to police. Bilsland said there are now 32 residents in 24 tents at the tent city, which he said continues to grow.

“If we build it, they will come,” said Bilsland, who organized the tent city to highlight lack of available housing for the poor.

Between Oct. 25 and Nov. 4, Spokane Police documented seven service calls to the tent city, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said. Officers responded to complaints that included domestic disputes, weapons, trespass, noise and disorderly conduct.

Last week, Bilsland said two sex offenders who had been identified by police were asked to leave the camp.

On Nov. 1, Neighborhood Resource Officer Shaney Redmon issued a chronic nuisance complaint to the property’s owner, Robert Gilles, a South Hill Realtor. Gilles has 10 days to respond to the notification, Feist said. If the nuisance is not “addressed in a meaningful way,” he may be subject to civil penalties.

Late Wednesday, Gilles, who has declined to be interviewed, visited door-to-door in the neighborhood, DesChamps said. While DesChamps and Gilles spoke on her front porch, she said, a loud argument erupted from the tent city.

DesChamps said she will no longer allow her 9-year-old son, Nicholas, to walk alone to or from school and will no longer allow him to ride his bike in the alley between their home and the tent city lot.

“I don’t know what to tell him (about the campers),” DesChamps said. “We just want to make our neighborhood safe.”

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