Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl issued a warning this week to the Washington state Department of Transportation and a nonprofit providing help at a homeless encampment in East Central that criminal activity there is costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and must end.
“This process does not establish an arbitrary and irrational deadline to remove the encampment to the detriment of its occupants, but rather is a compassionate action seeking to end a public health and safety emergency before winter strikes,” a letter, sent by the police department to the Transportation Department and Jewels Helping Hands on Wednesday, reads.
The letter outlines more than a dozen allegations of criminal activity at the state-owned property along Interstate 90 that residents refer to as Camp Hope, dating back to December. Those include use of drugs, thefts from surrounding businesses and the shooting that occurred outside the camp early Wednesday morning. The camp began as a protest of the city of Spokane’s response to homelessness and housing, and has since become a point of dispute between city and county lawmakers, local law enforcement and state agencies that own the land where hundreds of people have been residing.
The police department said that in an unspecified 56-day period, there were 384 calls for service at the property, and that the police response alone has cost the city more than $500,000 in overtime hours for its patrol officers.
Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the letter is intended to establish the city’s expectations for ongoing discussions about how to remove the camp, which the police department contends is illegal.
“It’s no different than what any other property owner would go through,” Coddington said.
The letter demands a response from the state Department of Transportation within 10 days under the city’s chronic nuisance property ordinance. Under that law, a property owner must contact the police department and form a plan to end criminal activity or face legal penalties and potentially be forced into a courtroom to resolve the dispute.
The police department included with its letter a proposed agreement that would require the Transportation Department and camp management to move residents to homeless shelters in the city, and issued orders preventing people from entering the camp on Oct. 31. All personal items would need to be moved off the property by Nov. 15, coinciding with a pledge from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to remove the camp by mid-November. Coddington said those dates were nonbinding, however, and meant to demonstrate the city’s expectations in ongoing talks.
Camp operators held a meeting Thursday acknowledging security issues at the camp. The Transportation Department plans to hire a security company that will be on site next week.
A spokesman with the Department of Transportation confirmed Friday the agency had received Meidl’s letter, but declined to comment further.
Julie Garcia, a camp manager and director of the nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands, said Friday afternoon she had only seen a copy of the letter shared by KXLY-TV. It won’t change the nonprofit’s operations at the camp, she said.
“We’ve been working to continue to get people into housing, both before and after this,” Garcia said. “Our statement from Jewels Helping Hands about the entire thing is, this political nonsense is why people are still homeless.”
“Nothing benefits this community more than housing all the people on this lot,” she added.
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