Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich intends to handle the East Central homeless camp known as Camp Hope the same way that Spokane Valley handles homeless camps. A “hand up” not a “hand out,” he said.
“Are you giving them services or are you just sustaining the camp?” the sheriff asked on Sunday. “Providing services means you are actually helping people and getting them out of that condition. Giving them stuff to sustain the camp is totally different.”
The comments come after sheriff’s office candidate Wade Nelson claimed that Knezovich was “kicking the hornet’s nest” in the city of Spokane while “not adequately addressing” the homelessness in his primary jurisdiction, which includes Spokane Valley.
The sheriff announced his intention last week to remove the estimated 600 people from Camp Hope by mid-October. Knezovich is not seeking re-election and will leave office at the end of the year. He has endorsed Undersheriff John Nowels as his successor.
“My biggest thing is he is making it a personal vendetta,” Nelson said of the sheriff’s Camp Hope announcement. “You’re not even going to be here in four months. You’re leaving. Now at the 10th hour, you’re jumping in?”
Nelson supports removing homeless encampments in Spokane County, but said that the sheriff’s approach is reckless.
“We’re not building relationships, we’re breaking them when we do those kinds of things,” he said of the sheriff. “He does not have a plan.”
Jewels Helping Hands estimated between 400-500 people experiencing homelessness in the Valley, he said.
However, Knezovich refuted Nelson, who claimed last week that nearly 100 people experiencing homelessness were camped along the Appleway Trailhead. Nelson clarified to say that about 87 people camped on the trail were provided with a meal from a service provider last month.
“He lied to y’all,” Knezovich said standing in front of the Appleway Trailhead with no apparent homelessness in sight.
“Do you see homelessness?” the sheriff asked reporters. “The Valley keeps it in check.”
A group of passersby who live near the Appleway Trailhead told the sheriff that they had not seen any homeless encampments anywhere on the trail recently.
“The Valley does not tolerate what the city does,” Knezovich said.
Councilman and former Spokane Valley mayor Rod Higgins said he wasn’t aware of homelessness on the trail, but that there are homeless camps in the Dishman Hills area, which Nelson had also mentioned.
This summer, authorities removed a large camp along Best Avenue that Higgins estimated held 100 people. Higgins said he is supportive of the sheriff’s approach.
“Generally, our philosophy has been simple,” Higgins said. “If you’re trying to get out of homelessness, we want to help. If not, we’d rather you weren’t here. You’re probably in the wrong place.”
The sheriff on Thursday announced his plan to remove Camp Hope by Oct. 14 in a letter he penned to the Washington state Department of Transportation, which owns the property on which the camp sits. Part of his plan includes providing bus tickets for the approximately 600 people living there so they can reunite with family for assistance. His letter also said he would engage faith leaders to help with substance abuse and mental health treatment.
“I stepped up and tried to help,” he said. “I am doing my last effort to help fix this issue.”
Knezovich said that he spoke with Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and received her approval to go ahead with his plan before his declaration to clear the camp last week.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said he would be meeting with the sheriff this week to discuss the issue.