The state Department of Transportation will not take action to remove the cooling tent on WSDOT land built for the people living at the Camp Hope homeless encampment in Spokane.
WSDOT was sent a notice Wednesday from Spokane Fire Marshal Lance Dahl requesting the cooling tent’s removal. Tents the size of Camp Hope’s need a permit from the fire marshal to legally operate, but since WSDOT has not formally condoned the tent’s activities even though state officials have no plans to stop them, city officials say they cannot issue the permit.
WSDOT and the state Department of Commerce issued a joint statement Friday on the situation.
“Ultimately, the safety and well-being of people is our paramount concern,” the statement read. “In response to the city administration’s notice of violation, the state will not take action during this extreme weather to remove the cooling center.”
Owned by Jewels Helping Hands and funded by the Empire Health Foundation, the 1,950-square-foot tent was built in an effort to help the hundreds at Camp Hope on Second Avenue and Ray Street stay cool during this week’s heat wave. The tent is located across Pacific Avenue adjacent to the Camp Hope encampment.
The city’s notice of violation to WSDOT set a 9 a.m. Monday deadline for the state to take responsibility for the tent, whether by allowing the activities or trespassing the tent off the property. If WSDOT fails to meet that deadline, the state could be assessed a civil infraction of $536 per day for every day the tent remains in place.
The city administration would prefer Camp Hope residents use the cooling centers established with expanded hours through Sunday at the Central, Shadle Park, Liberty Park and Hillyard libraries. The closest to Camp Hope, Liberty Park, is about a mile away.
Spokane Transit Authority is providing fare waivers for people who cannot afford the trip and are going to or from a cooling center.
“In light of the heat wave and obviously the purpose of the tent, the notice of violation to WSDOT and requesting that it be disassembled Monday when temperatures are expected to return to normal, that felt like middle ground to handle that as best we could,” city spokesperson Kirstin Davis said Thursday.
Camp Hope first took shape in December after the city disbanded a protest outside Spokane City Hall in demand of more shelter for homeless populations. WSDOT has not taken action on Camp Hope to date due to the city’s lack of available shelter beds.
The cooling tent, equipped with fans and misters, is seen as some relief for this week’s temperatures. Highs are expected to continue to cross the 100-degree mark through Sunday.
“This encampment began as a protest to the city administration’s inaction to provide social and health services and their treatment of individuals experiencing homelessness,” the WSDOT and Commerce statement read. “The state has repeatedly requested the city administration engage and find constructive solutions to ensure basic public safety and health standards are met and find safer shelter and long-term housing options.
“We are hopeful the city administration and city council will coalesce behind a plan. Until then, we will continue to review other local proposals submitted last week and allow non-profit organizations to continue helping individuals in need.”
The Spokane City Council may take action Monday to consider some sort of low-cost lease agreement that could involve either the city or Empire Health leasing the property to clear the cooling tent for WSDOT’s purposes.
The city submitted a plan last week for approximately $24.3 million available through the Department of Commerce’s Rights of Way initiative with projects for relocating the individuals living at Camp Hope into better living situations.
Responding to the joint statement from WSDOT and Commerce, Mayor Nadine Woodward contested the state’s assertion that the city has not responded to the encampment, citing the presence of on-site security, increased police patrols, provided garbage dumpsters and meetings with nearby businesses and community members.
“We have been repeatedly disappointed with the response from the State that the City has not provided assistance to the encampment,” she said in a statement. “We are required to follow the law and that may conflict with the actions of organizations providing assistance, but we are open and willing to find viable, legal solutions that meet the needs of individuals at the encampment.”