The Spokane City Council moved Monday to earmark funding for the cooling tent operating at Camp Hope, the east Spokane homeless encampment to more than 600 people.
Meanwhile, the council may hold a special meeting Thursday to approve an arrangement to help clear the tent with the city’s fire marshal, who has deemed it an illegally constructed temporary structure.
The funding was included in the spending plan for the approximately $27.8 million of the roughly $81 million awarded to the city of Spokane through the American Rescue Plan, a federal stimulus program aimed at COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Council members adjusted the ordinance through an amendment brought forth by Council President Breean Beggs for $120,000 toward “providing shelter during extreme weather events, including but not limited to extra staffing hours at libraries during extended cooling center hours and operation of standalone cooling centers,” according to the legislation.
Council members voted unanimously to approve the $27.8 million package. Council members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle voted in favor of the legislation after pitching a different proposal for spending the American Rescue Plan funding that did not receive enough council support to move forward.
The city extended the hours at four libraries – Central, Shadle Park, Liberty Park and Hillyard – through Monday in response to last week’s heat wave when Spokane County was under an excessive heat warning.
Part of that $120,000 will go toward supporting extra library staffing in the event of extreme weather, as Beggs said the city has exhausted the budget for such activities.
While not specifically referenced in the ordinance, another part of that funding is intended to reimburse the Empire Health Foundation for funding operations at the Camp Hope cooling tent, he said.
Empire Health has provided funding to support staffing and operations for the tent, which is owned and overseen by the nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands specifically for people living at Camp Hope. Equipped with fans and swamp coolers, the tent was built to accommodate Camp Hope residents particularly with last week’s heat wave .
Both the camp and the tent are located on land owned by the state Washington Department of Transportation.
The tent was still up Monday afternoon past a 9 a.m. deadline set by Fire Marshal Lance Dahl for its removal.
The state transportation department was put on notice around Wednesday by the fire marshal and asked to remove the tent since the cooling tent is operating without a fire marshal’s permit. City officials have said Dahl cannot issue the permit since the state has not formally authorized the tent’s operations on the property.
Similar to how the state has approached Camp Hope, the state transportation department has allowed the tent to exist without giving formal approval. Both the state transportation department and the state Department of Commerce said Friday that state officials will not take action to remove the tent.
Beggs said the state is seeking an agreement, including an indemnification clause; otherwise, they are putting the state at risk. The arrangement could involve leasing the property to either Empire Health or the city.
Once that agreement is in place, the belief is the fire marshal will have the clearance to move forward with the permit process.
“They are hoping either Empire Health Foundation or the city would step up, sign that kind of hold harmless agreement and then their lawyers would be fine,” Beggs said. “That’s the rock in a hard place that the on-the-ground people at WSDOT here are facing.”
The City Council is expected to discuss the matter Thursday during a scheduled study session. Council members will have their next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 15.
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