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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fire marshal issues permit for Camp Hope shelter as legal battles continue

The cooling tent erected in Camp Hope is seen in July. Since the photo was taken, the tent has become a hub for resources for those living at the camp. After several months, the nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands and the state received a permit last week to allow the tent to legally stay up, but the city now says it intends to reevaluate that decision at the end of this month due to concerns about snow.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)

The nonprofit providing rehousing and other services to those living at a homeless encampment near Interstate 90 now has the necessary permit to continuing legally providing help to those living there.

But the document doesn’t make it any clearer if, and when, the people living there will need to move out, as the city said Tuesday it intended to issue the permit only through the end of the month, not next summer.

Brian Coddington, communications manager for the city, provided via email an updated city notice on Tuesday that lists an end date of Nov. 30. The city intends for the temporary structure that was used this summer as a cooling center to be re-evaluated to determine whether it can support snow and be used this winter. The notice posted by Jewels Helping Hands at the site of the encampment on state property has a listed end date of June 1, 2023, and was issued when a fire marshal came out to perform an inspection last week, said Julie Garcia, executive director of the nonprofit.

“That’s what’s posted,” Garcia said. “That’s what we paid for.”

An application for a special event permit on the site was submitted to the Spokane Fire Department, which inspected the shelter on Thursday. City Fire Marshal Lance Dahl inspected the structure, which has served as a hub for residents seeking identification cards and other services, after it was erected this summer as a cooling space for those living in tents on the property, which is owned by the Washington Department of Transportation.

A receipt from the city shows that the Empire Health Foundation paid the $210 fee to obtain the permit, which allows for the tent to remain standing under certain conditions. Empire Health is working under a state contract to provide outreach and services to those living at the camp. Both the copy of the permit provided by Garcia and the one sent by Coddington list a maximum occupancy for the tent at 115 people and require a minimum of two exits.

The updated notification provided by Coddington, dated Tuesday, has an additional requirement.

“The Fire Department requires an engineering report of the tent for proper set up and for the snow load requirements to extend the permit past November 30th,” the notice reads.

Coddington said the city is sending Jewels Helping Hands the permit with the additional requirement and earlier expiration date.

The city and county have gone through separate legal processes in an attempt to disband the camp, both of them arguing its dispersal is necessary to protect human health. Jewels Helping Hands, the group Disability Rights Washington and several residents of the camp filed a federal lawsuit last week attempting to prohibit city and county officials from “sweeping” the camp. Varying dates have been given for when that action might be taken, with the city suggesting a deadline of Nov. 15 and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announcing his intentions to clear the camp later this month, with an emergency declaration to move residents indoors this winter.

The city in September put Jewels on notice that it would begin fining the group daily if the tent, which had been erected without a permit, was not removed. The permit ends those fines, but Garcia said the nonprofit had received citations totaling more than $9,000. A court date is set for Nov. 18 to address the fines, Garcia said.

Garcia said staff members at the camp are conducting checks every 15 minutes to look for any fires within the fence of the property, and have purchased four more fire extinguishers for the camp as well as installed three more carbon monoxide detectors for the tent, in addition to the two that were already there.