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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State to contract Empire Health Foundation to coordinate relocation assessments, services for Camp Hope residents

Julie Garcia, of Jewels Helping Hands, talks about the issues at Camp Hope, a homeless encampment in Spokane on July 14. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

What services are needed to relocate the more than 600 people at the Camp Hope homeless encampment in east Spokane into better living situations?

Awarded at least $500,000 from the state to help answer that question, the Empire Health Foundation also hopes to use the opportunity to develop a comprehensive system for addressing homelessness across the region.

State officials announced Monday the Department of Commerce plans to contract with Empire Health, a Spokane-based nonprofit that serves seven Eastern Washington counties in championing health equity, to help address the situation with the homeless encampment at Second Avenue and Ray Street known as Camp Hope.

The $500,000 is available through the Department of Commerce’s Rights of Way initiative.

As part of that program, the state has offered Spokane approximately $24.3 million for projects aimed at relocating the more than 600 people living in the Camp Hope homeless encampment on Department of Transportation land into better living situations. Camp Hope is regarded as the largest homeless encampment on any right of way in the state.

The state has thus far committed a minimum of $500,000 to Empire Health. Empire Health President Zeke Smith said he’s talked with the Department of Commerce about working with providers to map out the services necessary to assess the needs at Camp Hope and those additional costs.

“I think it’s more than $500,000,” Smith said. “I don’t feel like we have to work under a cap at this moment as much as figure out what does it really cost to move this many individuals in a meaningful way to other options. It’s such a bigger problem, to my understanding, than any other community has.”

As part of the letter of intent, the state has formally given Empire Health the green light to proceed with the contract immediately.

From here, Empire Health over the next few weeks will meet with service providers who are likely to or are already working with Camp Hope residents, such as the nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands, which has overseen Camp Hope. Smith said the parties involved also will identify both an organizational structure as well as a literal one, as in an accommodation from which they can conduct this work.

One of the goals is to link Camp Hope residents based on their needs with appropriate housing situations, whether it’s to existing opportunities or those that could become available through the Rights of Way funding process.

This effort is the second initiative to date funded by the Department of Commerce aimed specifically at addressing Camp Hope. Commerce also has committed $6.5 million for Catholic Charities Eastern Washington to purchase the Quality Inn on Sunset Highway for emergency supportive housing.

The city had submitted a plan last month requesting, in part, $500,000 for Spokane County United Way to coordinate multiple agencies to conduct outreach and needs assessments for those living at Camp Hope.

While the United Way “is still at the table and may play a role,” the agency told Commerce they did not have the capacity to tackle all of the proposed work, said Department of Commerce spokesperson Penny Thomas.

“We are funding this first step in the city of Spokane’s plan and look forward to continuing work with all of the local partners,” Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said in a statement. “Our goal remains to make sure that in addition to housing, people currently at Camp Hope are provided opportunities to connect with appropriate support and services that offer potential for permanent solutions and positive outcomes over the long term.”

Prior to Commerce committing the funding award, Smith was asked by the state to respond to a series of questions about what this sort of coordination could look like, he said.

And while getting involved in homelessness services at this level does not fall within Empire Health’s long-term interests, Smith said the agency was willing to step in after determining there “isn’t the kind of coordination and leadership that’s needed” to build an integrated and comprehensive system for addressing homelessness.

In developing that level of coordination regionwide, Smith said the Spokane region can use other communities as models for developing a regional homelessness authority, whether it’s an independent coalition or government-structured.

“I think Commerce has been really clear that this set of resources that they have is specifically allocated or available to move Camp Hope residents … to better housing options,” Smith said. “We’ll have to be focused on really addressing that first and foremost.

“That being said, this is a huge opportunity for us as a community to use, in essence, a resource that’s new and wasn’t ours to address a broader issue,” he continued, “which Camp Hope is a manifestation of but is only a kind of indicator of a bigger issue that we’ve got in our community.”