Homeless campers pack up
City enforces ban; some find space at shelter
They left quietly, saying goodbye to the patch of sidewalk under the freeway that was the only home they’ve known for the last couple of months.
Residents of a homeless tent camp at Fourth Avenue and Division Street under Interstate 90 received an eviction notice Thursday. They were given 24 hours to clear out of the area. Friday, a group of about 40 campers who were there in the morning dwindled to a handful by 1:30 p.m.
“Where do they expect the people to go?” asked Doug Seibold II, a resident of the camp whom others have called the “mayor of tent city.” Seibold was one of the last to leave the camp. Before the deadline, Seibold questioned whether the city was going to show up to evict them. He said he plans to pack up and move south, eventually ending up in Tucson, Ariz.
City officials announced last week that they would enforce a ban on camping on public property without a permit. A local couple asked the city for a permit for a tent city, but the land under the freeway is owned by the state, which does not allow tent cities on its property.
At noon Friday, representatives from the city and about five or six police officers came to make sure everyone had left and to let them know where they could find shelter.
One woman who didn’t want to give her name said she has been living on the streets since her boyfriend died of cancer a couple of months ago. She moved into the camp a couple of days after Christmas.
“I’m by myself and it’s hard,” she said. Now that the camp has been broken up, she plans to stay with friends who were homeless themselves last year and whom she took into her own home.
The city listed shelter options on its eviction notice, but she wasn’t planning to go to any.
“Never been to a shelter in my life,” she said, adding that she frequents free meal programs.
Samantha Harvey, 24, said she was going to try to find someplace else to “keep being a gypsy.” She said she doesn’t enjoy being homeless, but if she went to a shelter, she would have to give up her personal belongings – as many blankets, warm clothes and other items she could fit on two strollers.
“This is everything in my entire world,” Harvey said.
Spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the city is informing those in the camp about social services in the area. Friday night, the city activated its warming centers, as it does whenever the temperature dips below 15 degrees. The temperature was expected to drop to 12 degrees Friday night.
“We’re hoping the majority of them will take advantage of those opportunities,” Feist said.
One of the warming centers isn’t far from the camp. The Rev. Rob Bryceson of First Covenant Church, 212 S. Division, said his church will be open as a warming center for the first time Friday night. The church has been known to offer free meals on Sundays, but this will be the first time the gymnasium would be open all night. The church has an agreement with Union Gospel Mission to help with staffing so they can keep people warm and offer coffee and blankets.
Bryceson said many homeless people turned up in the church parking lot Friday after their eviction from the camp.
“They said it was pretty peaceful,” Bryceson said. He said the city dealt with the problem better than it has in years past. “They are really being patient with them,” he said.
While the deadline was 11 a.m. for the camp to break up, code enforcement officers and Spokane police didn’t get to the camp until noon. Even then, it was another hour and a half before the Spokane County sheriff’s work crew rolled its truck next to the camp to collect any items left behind.
Code enforcement and other city officials will be stopping by to make sure the camp hasn’t re-formed.
“We don’t see living in a tent outdoors as a viable solution to homelessness,” Feist said.