Residents of Camp Hope, the homeless encampment built around the side entrance of Spokane City Hall, were notified by law enforcement Thursday that they had 48 hours to leave the property before their belongings would be considered abandoned and would be destroyed.
Residents of the camp were cited under the city’s law against camping on public land, which is not enforceable when homeless shelters are full. After losing 150 shelter beds at the House of Charity, the city reduced enforcement of laws that penalize people for sleeping on downtown sidewalks or camping on public property.
But now that two additional warming shelters will be operational, city of Spokane spokeswoman Marlene Feist said, the city can enforce the camping ordinance and cite people who camp on public land.
The two new shelters, Salem Lutheran Church and 527 S. Cannon St., will have space for about 100 people to sleep. The South Cannon shelter came online Saturday night and is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and the Salem Lutheran Church shelter will open Friday night at 9 p.m. and close at 7 a.m.
The Guardians Foundation, a local organization that offers resources and transitional or emergency housing for veterans, will operate both shelters and offers rides from City Hall to the South Cannon shelter site.
Feist said the goal of setting up the shelter network and enforcing the law was to get people indoors. City Hall was not intended to become a permanent camping site, she said.
“We felt like we had sufficient space available,” she said, “and (this) is a better solution for folks to be indoors when the weather is cold.”
Camp Hope grew up around a protest over the city’s sit-lie law, which bars people from sleeping or sitting on downtown sidewalks during the day, except when shelters are full. Alfredo LLamedo, a frequent voice of dissent at City Hall, staged a hunger strike and camped in front City Hall’s entrance until the City Council suspended enforcement of the ordinance, saying it criminalized the homeless population.
Police have argued that the anti-camping ordinance and sit-lie law are tools to get people to use community services. Most sit-lie citations don’t lead to jail time, and people are instead referred to Community Court where they are connected to a variety of housing, behavioral health and employment services.
According to city documents, the sit-lie law was used 11 times in the three months after the House of Charity cutbacks. In the three months leading up to the cutbacks, the law was used more than 60 times.
The small group of supporters who watched over LLamado at night and brought him drinks continued to support the protest that grew up around him after his hunger strike ended, said Valerie Waley, one of the local activists who has been supporting the camp for the last few weeks. Last Wednesday, the protest over sit-lie and lack of shelter space expanded to include 25 tents after a $500 donation from local philanthropists Sharon Smith and Don Barbieri.
Some break camp, others hold ground
After having a notice to remove property taped to her tent, Camp Hope resident Johnnie Ashcraft began packing her belongings immediately. Picking up her pit bull puppy, who shivered and whined as she layered her blankets around him in her wagon, Ashcraft said she has been homeless on and off for about five years following an abusive relationship.
Ashcraft said she was in jail when the protest began. She said she was afraid that staying in the camp after she was told to leave, especially after being arrested recently, could land her back in jail. She said she planned to join her boyfriend at a new camp where police might not bother them, but was still frustrated with how the city was handling the homeless population.
“It’s baloney how they’re treating the homeless,” she said. “Because we’re homeless doesn’t mean we’re diseased. We’re human beings, just like the rest.”
As Ashcraft and a few others began to pack up their belongings, some camp residents took the immediate step of requesting a hearing, saying the city shouldn’t enforce the camping ordinance on a protest.
Camp resident Suzzann Calvert requested a hearing minutes after receiving her notice. Once she completed the process, she walked around the camp informing other residents of the steps they had to take to make their case to the city.
Calvert said she and others in the camp intended to stay in front of City Hall until everyone had shelter and a place to leave their belongings. She said sleeping in a group where they can hear each other and check in on each other is much safer than finding some place to sleep alone. She said she has been homeless for the last three years due to domestic violence, usually moves regularly to avoid her abuser and is afraid to go to the House of Charity because he has stayed there before.
She said due to violence inflicted on the homeless, especially women, she and others in the camp look out for each other.
“We’re all family,” she said. “We all take care of each other.”
Michael Shaw, executive director of the Guardians Foundation, said most of the services the organization offers are by veterans for veterans. But, he said, they felt that homelessness in Spokane is becoming a serious enough issue that they needed to step up.
“This homeless situation is a crisis,” he said. “No different than a forest fire that rips through a town. … It’s a very, very serious situation in Spokane.”
He said the two shelters they are operating are open to anyone who needs a safe place to sleep and escape the cold weather.
Salem Lutheran Church will be able to house up to 60 people when it opens Friday night. Shaw said the South Cannon shelter can house up to 43 people and is starting to fill up, but he hopes to find a way to make space for more.
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