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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Proposed Spokane anti-camping law officially heading to November ballot

A tent is seen near the Spokane River in September below Riverton Avenue.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

A proposed amendment to Spokane law that would ban camping near schools, parks, playgrounds and day cares is heading to the November ballot following a unanimous City Council vote Monday.

Spokane already has an anti-camping law that the City Council reworked last year. It prohibits camping along the Spokane River and Latah Creek, under viaducts and within three blocks of homeless shelters.

But a ballot initiative, led by attorney Brian Hansen, would make the law even more stringent and illegalize camping within 1,000 feet of any school, park, playground or day care.

Hansen has said the amendment is necessary to protect children, while critics have argued it would further punish homeless people who already have nowhere to go.

Spokane City Council President Lori Kinnear said in an interview Monday that she expects the proposal to face legal challenges even before voters have their say.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2018 ruled that governments can’t universally ban people from camping on public property unless they offer individuals shelter. The court decided that criminalizing people for being homeless when they have nowhere else to go constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling allows cities to craft limited camping bans, but Hansen’s amendment would make camping illegal throughout much of the city. It’s unclear if such a strict prohibition could survive a challenge in court, in part because Spokane has fewer shelter beds than homeless residents.

While the City Council voted to place Hansen’s initiative on the ballot, the decision was little more than a formality. Kinnear said the council had no choice because supporters had gathered enough signatures to put the question to a city-wide vote without council consent.