Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday proclaimed an emergency at Camp Hope, a move they say will allow them to establish a coordinated regional effort aimed at closing the homeless encampment and moving its residents indoors before the arrival of winter.
The commissioners unanimously approved the resolution at the request of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, but the original ask came from Brian Schaeffer, Spokane’s interim emergency management director and fire chief.
At a Tuesday news conference at Spokane City Hall, city and county leaders presented a united front when discussing the emergency proclamation. Knezovich, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney all said they believe clearing the tent city before snowfall is in the best interest of the campers and the East Central neighborhood. The city plans to house many of Camp Hope’s 450 residents inside its new homeless shelter on Trent Avenue.
The commissioners during their Tuesday meeting praised Knezovich for recommending the emergency proclamation. The sheriff, who will retire at the end of the year, became a central figure in the Camp Hope saga in September when he said he planned to forcibly remove people from the encampment along Interstate 90 by mid-October. He has since pushed back that deadline at Woodward’s request.
“I’m just thankful that you took it upon yourself to do this,” Kuney said. “We are all here to support you.”
Not everyone agrees the emergency proclamation is a good idea.
Wade Nelson, a Republican running for Spokane County sheriff, said after the news conference that he believes his former boss has “overstepped” when it comes to Camp Hope. He called the emergency proclamation and threats to clear out the encampment “a power move.”
“It looks like we’re just pandering,” Nelson said, adding he doesn’t see how the proclamation is helping the community.
Undersheriff John Nowels, Nelson’s opponent, stressed he believes Knezovich is working with the Woodward administration, not alone. He said he believes making the proclamation was the right decision.
“This is no time for politics,” the undersheriff said. “This is about getting a problem solved.”
Nowels also said he believes the sheriff is fulfilling his duty and standing up for his constituents in the East Central neighborhood by pushing for Camp Hope’s closure. Knezovich has endorsed Nowels, who is also running as a Republican.
“The sheriff has an obligation to serve the citizens,” Nowels said. “We’re just saying enough is enough.”
Nelson also pointed out that the city and county haven’t explained in detail what the emergency proclamation will entail.
“They don’t know what they’re doing yet,” he said.
Schaeffer has said , by allowing the county to open its emergency operations center at 1610 N. Rebecca St., the proclamation will help local jurisdictions collaborate instead of launching independent responses to Camp Hope. He has said the proclamation is needed in order to direct Camp Hope’s residents to shelter, find a storage facility for their belongings, provide security for service providers and physically clean the property.
The proclamation will also allow the county to bypass competitive bidding requirements and make funding available more quickly.
Nowels disagreed with Nelson, saying he thinks the city and county have a clear idea of what they’re doing with the emergency proclamation.
“There is a plan,” he said, “otherwise we wouldn’t be standing in front of cameras.”
County commissioners earlier this month decided to sue the Department of Transportation and attempt to get a judge’s permission to clear the property. The department has said the lawsuit, and the looming threat of similar legal attacks from the city of Spokane, is damaging the parties’ ability to work together and making it harder to help Camp Hope’s residents.
In a Monday news release, the Department of Transportation said it wouldn’t collaborate on the emergency operations center unless the county drops the lawsuit.
“We have repeatedly asked local government to proactively partner with us on this important work, but have instead been met with legal proceedings, arbitrary deadlines and misinformation,” the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and Washington State Patrol wrote.
Nowels said he believes the lawsuit has value as a motivational tool while Nelson said he thinks the county should stop threatening to sue the state over Camp Hope.
“If I were the sheriff, I would drop the lawsuit,” Nelson said.
Knezovich said Tuesday the state should be meeting with the county regardless of the lawsuit.
“I’m tired of all the finger pointing on this issue,” he said.
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