The city of Spokane has installed a new stretch of fencing beneath the Sprague Avenue-Division Street viaduct that Mayor Nadine Woodward sees as an effort to keep the street clean and safe, but two city councilmembers said they felt blindsided by the move.
The fencing, which went up Thursday, is similar to the links put up beneath the Browne Street viaduct in February. Back then, Woodward said the fencing was needed because the city’s efforts to clean that viaduct area were unsustainable.
The situation was similar at Sprague Avenue and Division Street, said Woodward, who added that “we cannot keep up with the needles and the garbage and everything else that comes along with the activity that is there on a daily basis.”
“I indicated then that if there were other areas of the city where we needed to address an unsafe and unhealthy environment again, we would do so with fencing,” Woodward said. “Division and Sprague has become very unhealthy and very unsafe for the people there, and so that is why we are erecting this fencing.”
But the Browne Street fencing drew criticism and protests from those frustrated by the city’s response to homelessness.
Woodward said she did not have a timeline on how long the new fencing might stay up.
By early Thursday afternoon, tents were set up on the corner of the Sprague and Division intersection across the street from the fenced walkway.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the fencing was installed without any notice to the council.
“This is a very unfortunate failure of collaboration and seems to make the city less safe,” Beggs said in a statement. “We have several areas of common ground between the City Council and the mayor’s office where we are working well together, and I hope we can extend it to all areas so that we can truly solve homelessness.”
Councilmember Zack Zappone said he found out about the fencing on Twitter.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity no matter their background,” Zappone said in a statement. “This is just another Band-Aid and not a long-term solution to permanent housing. We should be building quality shelters and not fencing.”
Shelter capacity remains an issue the city hopes to put a dent in with a proposed 150- to 250-bed shelter on East Trent Avenue.
“Fencing a viaduct to keep it clean and safe for everybody – and that’s what we’re talking about here, everybody – is not the answer to homelessness,” Woodward said. “It’s the answer to an issue we’re facing in one specific area.”