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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Knezovich asks state to audit ‘financing,’ ‘communication’ regarding Camp Hope

Camp Hope is seen Oct. 14. A Spokane County Superior Court judge ordered last week the city and state to work together and create a plan to close the homeless encampment on Washington Department of Transportation property.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich wants an audit of the financing and communication related to Camp Hope.

In a letter to the Washington state Auditor’s Office, Knezovich named two homeless service providers, Jewels Helping Hands and the Guardians Foundation, along with state agencies playing a role at Camp Hope. Those include the state departments of Transportation, Commerce and Licensing.

The request was sent as part of his office’s investigation into allegations regarding the funding and background of the homeless encampment on state property near Interstate 90, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Knezovich said the sheriff’s office is investigating fraud allegations against Jewels Helping Hands. Julie Garcia, founder of Jewels Helping Hands, said the nonprofit is not facing any allegations of fraud.

An employee of the Guardians Foundation, a nonprofit that operates two Spokane homeless shelters, may have embezzled six figures – or perhaps up to $1 million – after the foundation discovered missing funds in its annual financial audit.

The Guardians operates the Cannon Street homeless shelter and the Trent Resource and Assistance Center. The Spokane City Council last year signed a $1.9 million contract with the Guardians to operate the Cannon Street shelter through June. The council in August approved a $6.6 million contract with the nonprofit foundation to run the Trent shelter through 2023.

Knezovich said he is not investigating the Guardians Foundation because Spokane police officials told him that was a “regulatory issue.”

“There’s nothing criminal,” Knezovich said.

Knezovich said his office will take a look at “any irregularities” in funds provided to Camp Hope as part of its investigation.

In a letter last month to the Washington Department of Transportation, Knezovich said he planned to contact the FBI “with respect to possible public corruption, the misuse of public funds, and the circumstances surrounding the formation of this camp. It appears the formation of this camp was merely an effort to ‘pass the buck’ to the citizens of our County and the City of Spokane,” Knezovich wrote in the letter.

Garcia called Knezovich’s request of an audit “absolutely ridiculous,” and said she is unsure what the sheriff is trying to accomplish.

“So sure, he’s welcome to audit whatever they’d like to audit, but I just don’t understand where this comes from,” Garcia said. “I guess for me it’s just gotten to the point that the only thing that I can see is that he’s trying to disparage the name of Jewels Helping Hands.”

She said the organization does not receive money from the city, state or federal government besides a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan the organization received during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jewels Helping Hands has a contract with the Empire Health Foundation, which is receiving state money, to assist at Camp Hope. But she said until then, Jewels Helping Hands used community donations to fund Camp Hope efforts.

Garcia said the organization has not received money from the city of Spokane since its contract with the Cannon Street shelter ended in 2020. Spokane dropped its almost year-long investigation into Jewels Helping Hands in early 2021 and allowed Jewels Helping Hands to apply for city funding again.

The city investigated allegations against the nonprofit made by community advocates and several of Jewels’ past employees and guests. The focus of the investigation was on Jewels’ operation of the warming center on Cannon Street during the winter of 2019-20.

The list of more than 100 complaints included routine drug use and distribution by staff and employees at the warming center, firing an employee for calling 911 during an emergency and the use of racial epithets by staff members.

Jewels leaders denied nearly all of the claims and said others were irrelevant to its contract with the city.

While Knezovich said the sheriff’s office investigation into Jewels Helping Hands stems from fraud allegations, he did not disclose who made the allegations nor the specifics of the allegations because he said he did not want to compromise his department’s investigation.

Knezovich said a state agency was asked during a meeting how much money it has given Jewels Helping Hands, and the state did not provide an answer.

“So, hence an audit request,” Knezovich said.

Garcia said the sheriff’s office has not reached out to her about the investigation.

“We don’t truly have anything to hide,” she said.