From missing and damaged shopping carts to drug use in the bathroom, to customers and employees being assaulted in the parking lot, the Fred Meyer in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood has seen a major uptick in criminal activity in 2022, according to store manager Jesse Smith.
Smith was joined by other business owners, residents and public officials at the East Central Business Association’s meeting at the Stone Group offices to support the East Central Neighborhood Association’s recent resolution to clear the nearby homeless encampment, known as Camp Hope, by Thanksgiving.
Smith shared a litany of alleged abuses to which his store at 400 S. Thor St. has been subjected.
“We continually have to close our restrooms for cleaning and maintenance due to people smoking drugs in them. These drugs have very toxic fumes that my customers and associates have to deal with multiple times a day,” Smith said. “We have people who come in daily to smear feces and to put graffiti on the walls and attempt to flush drug paraphernalia and dirty articles of clothing.”
Smith detailed numerous other complaints, including assault, rape, prostitution and theft.
“We have had multiple associates just up and quit because they don’t feel safe anymore, including an associate who has been with us for over 15 years,” he said.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who was present at the meeting, has previously vowed to clear the encampment in November – just before his term in office ends. He suggested on Tuesday that the supermarket could close as a result of the increased criminal activity.
A spokesperson for Fred Meyer, however, said there are no plans to close the store, according to an email provided by KPBX.
“The safety and biohazard issues around our Spokane Thor store have continued to escalate to an alarming degree, which is why we have bolstered our investments in safety,” the spokesperson said in the email. “We have increased our security and cleaning detail, consigned off-duty police officers to help with safety opportunities, and more. While we do not currently have plans to close the store, we will continue to monitor the situation and consider any increased measures needed to ensure a safe environment. We ask that state and local government leaders prioritize prompt solutions to help ensure the safety of the community.”
According to the Spokane Police Department, 271 incident reports have been filed within a quarter-mile of the Fred Meyer location in 2022. That is an increase of about 55% from the previous year’s 174 incident reports, the department said.
Assault incident reports for the area have increased from 37 in 2021 to 63 in 2022, and burglary incident reports increased from three in 2021 to 16 in 2022, the department said.
Other business owners in the neighborhood joined Smith at the meeting to share their own complaints and support the plan to remove the camp before Thanksgiving, while simultaneously calling for a compassionate approach to serving camp residents.
Knezovich continued to blame the media and state bureaucrats for enabling the encampment’s existence.
“We’re fighting Olympia,” the sheriff said. “If they would simply come to the table, in four weeks this is done.
“In three weeks, we can shrink that camp substantially.”
Camp Hope has added a number of security measures since late September in an effort to reduce crime, monitor and secure camp residents, and to keep unwanted guests out.
“We can’t be responsible for all of the crime in the neighborhood,” said Julie Garcia, director and founder of the leading service provider at the camp, Jewels Helping Hands. “That’s impossible.”
She has answered the East Central Neighborhood Council’s questions and walked through the camp with its members in recent weeks, she said.
“I don’t know what more to do to mitigate things for the neighborhood,” she said.
As of Tuesday, the camp opened a telephone line for community members to call if they’re experiencing an issue with someone they think might be staying at the camp at (509) 666-9902.
“If someone is experiencing a crisis or causing an issue on their property, we will respond,” Garcia said.
Her hope is to start moving more camp residents into housing and shelter after the opening of the Catalyst Project, an emergency housing community at the Quality Inn building on Sunset Boulevard.
She anticipates the location will provide 100-200 beds between Dec. 1 and the end of the year.
“And then it’s just about the housing inventory for everybody else,” she said. “We have to have time to do this correctly. We can’t just make them homeless again.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.