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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As campaign ad shows Baltimore homeless camp, Cindy Wendle says she doesn’t recognize Spokane

An advertisement for Spokane City Council president candidate Cindy Wendle shows this picture from Baltimore as she says that “lately, I don’t even recognize it (Spokane).” (Campaign ad for Cindy Wendle)

Cindy Wendle loves Spokane, but “lately, I don’t even recognize it,” she states in her new campaign ad.

Maybe that’s because the image shown as Wendle narrates isn’t of Spokane. It’s Baltimore.

In a 30-second TV spot released this week by the candidate for Spokane City Council president, a brief scene shows a row of tents shaking in the wind. But the footage was filmed in Baltimore.

The scene is stock footage taken by Future Nostalgia Films, a Baltimore-area company. It can be purchased on Shutterstock in high definition for $79. A caption for the video states that it shows the area “in and around the Baltimore Orioles Stadium at Camden Yards.” M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Balitmore Ravens, appears to be in the background.

The ad cuts to the scene depicting homelessness just four seconds in, which is reflective of the front-and-center role the topic has had in the race between Wendle and her opponent, City Councilman Breean Beggs.

Wendle is hardly the first political candidate to use stock footage that doesn’t quite match the content of a political ad. An ad produced for Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016 declared “It’s morning again in America.” The problem? The footage was of Vancouver, Canada.

Wendle told The Spokesman-Review that she didn’t want to have a camera crew film a homeless encampment without a police escort, citing safety concerns. The scene also wasn’t filmed in Spokane out of respect for the city, she said.

“I didn’t want to call out any particular person or any particular area,” Wendle said.

Throughout the campaign, Wendle has criticized the city’s response to homelessness, questioning why action wasn’t taken earlier to mitigate its rise.

Of course, it wouldn’t be difficult to find a tent encampment in Spokane to film, and both candidates agree that public camping is a problem.

Wendle has gone on ridealongs with police and seen camps firsthand. They’re an issue for the thousands of people she’s spoken to throughout the campaign, she said.

“Our town is talking about this,” Wendle said.

The city receives about 150 reports of illegal camps every month, most of which are on public property, city staff informed the Public Safety and Community Health Committee at a meeting in September.

Up to that point, Spokane police had issued 323 camping citations, of which 57 were for repeat offenders, in 2019. The first time a person is cited they are referred to community court, the goal of which is to avoid jail and direct people into social services. If they don’t appear at community court, a warrant is issued for the person’s arrest.

The city removed 16,000 pounds of waste from homeless camps in June, 26,000 pounds in July and 13,000 pounds in August.

The City Council passed a law in 2018, with Beggs voting yes, that bans camping on public lands unless the mayor declares an emergency.

It remains legal to establish a camp on private property, but the camp must adhere to a number of regulations.

The city launched a pilot program in May that teamed Spokane police with city code enforcement in an effort to more quickly mitigate homeless camps when reported through the city’s My Spokane 311 system. If shelter space is available, city officials immediately begin cleaning up the camp. Camps left unattended are given 48-hour notice to clean up and vacate the area.

It used to take the city about 13 days to break up a homeless camp, but that number has dropped to about four or five days since the city launched its pilot program this year.

“We haven’t solved it, and I’m not aware of any city that’s solved camping completely, but we have improved it in the last year,” Beggs said.

Wendle said she’d like to see the camping enforcement program continue.

“We need to get these people connected to services, so, yes, we keep doing this and we keep hoping that one out of dozens will finally accept the help and we don’t see them again in these camps,” Wendle said.

The city has a plan to expand its warming center and shelter capacity, and Beggs believes it will help reduce the amount of camping on public land.

“It’s only going to get better in terms of our response. There are national forces creating more homeless people than ever before,” Beggs said, noting an opioid addiction crisis and increasing housing costs. “It’s not like Spokane is going to change those national forces (but) we’re doing a good job of addressing it with the resources we have.”

Wendle’s campaign is not the only project to use the stock footage of a homeless camp.

The scene is also used by rapper The Gift of Gab in his music video for “The Gentrification Song.” Gab’s take on the scene was, as the title of the song suggests, different than Wendle’s.

“No homeless people gazing up, thinking vacant thoughts. Brand new condominiums sit where there was a vacant lot,” he raps.

The rapper, formerly part of the rap duo Blackalicious, told NPR in 2017 the song was about how gentrification has impacted the country.

“I know people who are sleeping in their cars. This cab driver told me he was paying $1,300 a month (in rent). He got a letter that told him in two months it would rise to $3,600 a month. And just witness all the tent cities all over the country popping up,” he told NPR.