The activists behind the homeless encampment in front of City Hall known as “Camp Hope” plan four protests, beginning today in downtown Spokane, demanding repeal of city ordinances that prohibit camping on public land and sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks.
Alfredo LLamedo, the man whose weeklong hunger strike led to the two dozen-tent Camp Hope protest, said the group is seeking repeal of the anti-camping and sit-lie laws because they criminalize homelessness. He said activists also are asking for a 24/7 shelter.
LLamedo said Camp Hope, which was shut down earlier this month after the city notified campers they were violating the anti-camping law, isn’t a physical location, but a movement.
“They may have torn down the tents and thrown them in the back of a garbage truck,” he said. “But they can’t break the spirit. We’re not going to be ignored. We’re not going to be silenced and we’re not going away. … They have to deal with homelessness and do a better job than what they’re doing.”
The Spokane City Council suspended the sit-lie law last month, citing community confusion about enforcement. The law, which bars people from sleeping or sitting on downtown sidewalks during the day, only applies when eligible shelters have space. Shelters that have religious requirements to receive services, such as Union Gospel Mission, are not included in the total beds count police use when determining if they can enforce the ordinance.
Law enforcement and City Council members, including Mike Fagan, have contended the ordinance is a tool to get people connected to resources. People cited under sit-lie and the camping ordinances are sent to community court to be connected to housing and other resources, instead of being sent to jail.
The sit-lie law was used 11 times in the three months after cutbacks at the House of Charity shelter, according to city documents. In the three months leading up to the cutbacks, the law was used more than 60 times.
The City Council also has approved $1.3 million over the past month to set up a warming center network – opening sites at Salem Lutheran Church and on South Cannon Street – as well as expand the hours or capacity at Hope House, Women’s Hearth and Open Doors family shelter.
Kelly Keenan, director of community, housing and human services, said once the contracts and funding for the two additional shelters that were approved by the City Council go through, the city will have capacity for an additional 250 people for the winter months.
Councilwoman Kate Burke, who protested alongside activists the day before Camp Hope was removed, said she did not plan to participate in this demonstration but supported increased attention to homeless issues.
“That might not be the direction I would choose if I was protesting,” she said. “But I think that’s a unique way to draw attention to the issue so people know we’re not going to throw it under the rug or pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Burke sponsored an ordinance to repeal the camping ordinance and sit-lie, but other City Council members voted to suspend her ordinance indefinitely. Councilman Breean Beggs has put forward a proposal to amend sit-lie that would allow police to enforce it only when people have taken up the entire sidewalk, but his proposal has yet to appear on the council’s agenda.
LLamedo, who announced his protests to “disrupt downtown” during the City Council’s public comment period Monday, said the actions likely would be loud and include singing and shouting, and people might sit and lie on the ground. He said last he checked, a few dozen people said on social media they were interested in participating.
LLamedo and another activist, Charlie Johansen, were arrested for allegedly obstructing law enforcement when police removed Camp Hope from outside City Hall. Johansen said they weren’t obstructing police and were instead helping the homeless residents of the camp pack up their belongings. Their hearing is this afternoon.
LLamedo said the protests would begin at 5 p.m. today at River Park Square and continue at 5 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. He said the group will protest at different retail locations in the downtown core and might demonstrate in front of local landmarks, such as the Review Tower and the Historic Davenport Hotel.
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