People gathered. Arms linked. A wall formed. But there was nothing to stop.
In the freezing-cold early-morning hours Monday, about two dozen activists assembled with a small group of homeless people to block code enforcement from clearing out a homeless encampment outside City Hall near the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place. The protest was organized after a notice was posted Saturday at the camp by the Spokane Police Department declaring the city planned to clean Monday morning if not previously cleared away.
Expecting clean-up crews to arrive at 9:30 a.m., the group formed a human chain around the camp and waited. But code enforcement didn’t show.
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Alfredo LLamedo, who last Monday ended a weeklong hunger strike at the camp in support of homeless rights. “If they want to clean up trash, be my guest. But what’s ironic about that, they all of the sudden decide to come out here.”
The protest was the latest in an ongoing feud between LLamedo, other activists, and the city. As a result of his strike the City Council voted 6-1 on Nov. 19 in favor of suspending a controversial law that banned people from sitting, or sleeping on sidewalks downtown amid a shortage of shelter beds. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in September that similar laws in Boise violated the constitutional rights of homeless people.
Still, many in the group that gathered Monday morning interpreted the notice as a direct threat from city leadership. They worried code enforcement officers would ask the people living there to find a new place to camp, or have police arrest them under the city’s no-camping law.
Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman, said the notice to clean the camp was routine.
Dawn Kinder, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services division, said officers would make their way through the camp later in the day, when temperatures were expected to rise.
“This is not an eviction,” she said. “But we will be bringing in our clean-up crews to do clean up.”
LLamedo said he received an email from police Chief Craig Meidl stating that law enforcement was also advised to not enforce the no-camping law. The prohibition against camping on public property cannot be enforced when there are no shelter beds available.
Among the homeless who stayed was 54-year-old Cynthia Ham, who spent much of Monday morning worrying how she’d get around on her power chair once snow hits the ground.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, wrapped in a blanket, her hands clasping a cup of black coffee. “I don’t know where I’m going to go.”
A Spokane resident of about 19 years, she said she recently became homeless last month, but has struggled with finding permanent housing for much of her life, mostly due to her disability. With no phone, no address and less than $800 a month in income, she said she’s struggled to get off the streets.
“We don’t need beds,” she said. “We don’t need care. We just need a floor and a roof.”
Near her was 39-year-old Shan Anderson, who said he’s been homeless since he was 14. He was also one of three victims of an apparently random stabbing in late October.
After a brief stay at a hospital, he said he has lasting pain and physical deformities, such as a long, snaking scar near the base of his neck.
“All of this is hard,” Anderson said. “It’s hard. But I think it’s great what people are doing. Showing up and trying to help us out.”
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