Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward says the city will not clear Camp Hope this week, despite previously saying she expected the encampment to close by Nov. 15.
Woodward said that deadline imposed on the Washington State Department of Transportation by Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl was always aspirational, not an ultimatum. WSDOT owns the land on which Camp Hope sits along Interstate 90.
“It’s always been the goal for us to work around that date to clear it out,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to be gone on that date.”
Woodward said she still wants to move Camp Hope’s 465 residents to city homeless shelters as quickly as possible.
The mayor and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich in the last two months have repeatedly changed their Camp Hope closure deadlines.
In early September, Woodward threatened to sue the Department of Transportation if the east Spokane encampment wasn’t cleared by Oct. 14. The state has committed $21 million to housing the encampment’s residents.
Knezovich in late September said he’d clear Camp Hope by mid-October. At Woodward’s request, the sheriff pushed his deadline back by a month.
Cpl. Mark Gregory, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, would not say whether Knezovich still planned to clear Camp Hope by Tuesday.
“We don’t want to have to go down there,” Gregory said. “We would rather everybody work together and get this problem handled.”
Gregory noted that Catholic Charities Eastern Washington plans to open an emergency supportive housing facility at the start of December on Sunset Boulevard.
That former Quality Inn will house between 100 and 120 Camp Hope residents, and Gregory said Knezovich is willing to hold off on clearing the encampment until it opens.
“The ultimate goal: get them into housing,” Gregory said.
Removing campers by force may be legally risky for Spokane and Spokane County.
Late last month, three Camp Hope residents, Jewels Helping Hands and Disability Rights Washington filed a request for an injunction in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington, seeking to prevent the city and county from forcibly relocating the campers.
The lawsuit argues that clearing the encampment would violate the campers’ constitutional rights. It cites a number of court rulings as evidence, including Martin v. Boise.
In that case, the U.S. District Court for the Ninth Circuit ruled that governments cannot remove homeless people living on public property without offering them a shelter bed.
Woodward has said the city has adequate shelter space available to house Camp Hope’s residents. She has said the city can fit more than 400 people inside its new shelter on Trent Avenue, which is expected to have at least 250 beds.
Nearly 230 people stayed in the Trent Avenue shelter on Monday night, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington. About 60 of those people came from Camp Hope.
Department of Transportation officials have questioned whether Spokane has sufficient shelter space.
“Timeline for closing the encampment is contingent on the availability of multiple safe, secure housing options for hundreds of people,” the department wrote in a Wednesday news release. “There are not enough of those options available in the city or county at this time.”
Woodward stressed that she wants to get Camp Hope’s residents out of the elements and into the Trent Avenue shelter.
“We have a safe place for people that’s warm, that’s a bed, that’s three meals a day and access to showers,” she said. “People don’t have to be freezing in tents.”
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