The Washington State Department of Transportation will erect a fence around Camp Hope – possibly by the weekend – and camp residents have mixed feelings about it.
Joe McHale, the department’s spokesman, said Wednesday he could not release details about the fence, such as its dimensions or purpose. He said those details will be released once that information is determined by officials along with two other state agencies, the Department of Commerce and the State Patrol.
Julie Garcia, founder of the nonprofit homeless service provider Jewels Helping Hands, said her organization and transportation department workers cleared space Wednesday for the fence to be installed.
Garcia said the barrier will go on the perimeter of the entire homeless encampment, which is owned by the state and located off Interstate 90 in East Central Spokane. She said private security personnel will work the perimeter of the camp, while Jewels Helping Hands’ security will be on the inside at all times. An 8 p.m. curfew will also be enforced.
“This is what we’ve been asking for for months,” Garcia said.
She said her organization’s goal is to ensure the safety of the people inside the camp, as well as for neighbors. Garcia said the fence and curfew will help improve the look of the camp and track data to see if members of the camp are creating an increase in crime in the camp area, which some, like Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, have alleged.
“I think it’s just beneficial to the whole community to be able to have some accountability on the camp,” Garcia said.
Garcia said campers are being asked to sign a “good neighbor agreement.” She said if people at the camp truly are willing to better their living situation, then they will have to follow rules.
“Most of the camp is on board,” she said.
Garcia estimated about 10% of camp residents will leave when the fence is installed because they won’t want to follow the rules.
Jered Fullen, who has lived at Camp Hope since February, favored the proposed fence installation and curfew.
“I think that we need the control,” he said. “I think we need direction.”
He said people are typically up to no good after 8 p.m. and the curfew will weed out camp residents who aren’t serious about obtaining better housing.
“A lot of people out here want better, but they just don’t know how to get it,” Fullen said.
Another camp resident, James Christianson, said the fence and curfew would make neighbors feel safe and help reduce thefts in the neighborhood. On the other hand, he worried the fence would prevent people from escaping the camp if a violent person attacked them.
Christianson, a carpenter, also expressed concern about not being able to leave early in the morning to look for work or arriving late at night at the camp from a job. Garcia said security would make exceptions to the curfew for those who work.
Christianson, who has lived at the camp since March, said he planned to move out of the camp by the time the fence is erected.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the erection of the fence is part of the conversation city officials have had with the three state agencies.
He said the city is working to connect people with resources to get them out of the state-owned field and into safer and more humane housing.
Knezovich said last week he planned to clear the camp by mid-October without going into details of how he would do so. Part of that plan entailed giving bus tickets for the homeless people living at Camp Hope so they can reunite with family in hopes of recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues.
Coddington said Mayor Nadine Woodward has asked Knezovich for more time, and he agreed to push back the removal to mid-November.
Garcia said everyone agrees Camp Hope is not the most humane option, “but there is nowhere for them to go and dispersing 600 people into the neighborhoods isn’t a benefit to the community.”
Fullen said Camp Hope shouldn’t be shut down. However, he said 90% of people at the camp won’t go to a homeless shelter.
“There’s people that are addicted to living outside, you know, and there’s nothing you can do to change that,” Fullen said. “They’re just comfortable with the outside life and you can’t take that away from someone and make them move into a structured environment like that, where they’re inside and stuck. It feels like you’re caged sometimes.”
Fullen said he wants to remain at the camp until he and his girlfriend can get an apartment. He said Jewels Helping Hands hired him to work at the camp’s cooling tent.
Christianson said most people at the camp want better housing, but many need mental health or drug treatment. Without treatment, they won’t be able to hold down a home and job.
The Camp Hope issue received some national attention on Tuesday when Knezovich appeared on Fox News and called the camp a “prime example of the failed policies of the radical left.”
“It is devastating that entire neighborhood,” Knezovich said. “You have entire families living in fear because of the drugs, the alcohol, the theft, the violence.”
The Fox News interview showed aerial photos of Camp Hope. But most of the pictures and video used to illustrate Knezovich’s interview where instead pictures of homeless camps in other cities, specifically those in Seattle.
In Knezovich’s letter to the transportation department, he said that camp residents have experienced rape, beatings, brandings, thefts, shootings, stabbings and other crimes. Similar crimes have been reported in surrounding neighborhoods and businesses, he wrote.
Knezovich said a representative at Fred Meyer, located across I-90 from Camp Hope, told him theft at the store is “off the charts.”
“They have people shooting up drugs in the restrooms,” Knezovich said.
He told Fox News the state failed to clean up Camp Hope and allowed it to expand. Camp Hope formed in December outside City Hall and moved to the state-owned land off I-90.
The commerce department has offered $24.3 million to the city to relocate residents at Camp Hope to better housing.
“That’s just simply going to line the activists’ pockets,” Knezovich said. “It’s not going to help these people, and it’s surely not going to help the neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, Coddington said the city has not fined Jewels Helping Hands for refusing to take down the cooling tent at Camp Hope. Last week, the Spokane Fire Department issued a notice that Jewels Helping Hands must take down the tent, which the nonprofit uses as a resource access hub and which the fire department said did not have a building permit.
The city could impose a fine of $536 per day for every day it is occupied if the nonprofit failed to remove the tent last week.
Coddington said while the city has not imposed fines, they can be levied retroactively.
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