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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Imminent sweep of Camp Hope halted by settlement agreement, while city of Spokane retains options in state court

Jan. 27, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 28, 2023 at 8:19 p.m.

A resident in a snow-covered Camp Hope in the East Central Neighborhood leaves her tent in November.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A resident in a snow-covered Camp Hope in the East Central Neighborhood leaves her tent in November. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

An 11th-hour agreement presented to a federal judge Friday prevents the city of Spokane from clearing the homeless encampment known as Camp Hope unless it seeks to do so under state law.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward signaled Friday afternoon that wouldn’t happen until after talks with the Washington Department of Transportation, which owns the land where the encampment was established more than a year ago.

The agreement was presented to U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian by an attorney representing three of the residents at the encampment that has become the flashpoint for the housing and homelessness discussion in Spokane. It essentially eliminates the dangling threat of an imminent camp sweep, said Jeffry Finer, the attorney representing the residents.

“That was our primary goal,” said Finer, “was to bring a little safety and security to a population that doesn’t have any safety and security.”

Bastian appeared in Spokane on Friday to hear from the attorneys representing the residents at Camp Hope, the city of Spokane, Spokane County and Washington state about an existing order preventing law enforcement from clearing the camp. The city, in recent weeks, had sought to remove that order and in legal filings suggested a U.S. appellate court case out of Idaho finding that such encampments could not be cleared unless shelter beds were available was wrongly decided.

Instead, Finer and the city’s attorney, James King, told Bastian they would likely be able to finalize a settlement agreement to the federal lawsuit in the next few days, possibly as early as Friday.

The tentative agreement, a copy of which Finer provided, does allow the city to pursue what’s known as an abatement for a nuisance property in state court in the future. Finer said he expected the city would take such a legal action, but noted that the size of Camp Hope has continued to dwindle as state officials and the nonprofits Jewels Helping Hands and Empire Health work to get people staying there housing, identification and jobs.

“Whatever it was in June and July, when it was packed – as you would expect, it was an unruly bunch – that’s been partly moved to Trent, and they have to work some of that out,” Finer said.

Of the likelihood of a city legal action in state court, Finer said: “I’m expecting that will get started. I don’t know where it will go.”

Spokane County this week elected to drop its lawsuit making similar allegations, citing a desire to negotiate with the Washington Department of Transportation, which owns the land, on efforts to close the camp.

The city of Spokane had indicated in written communication to WSDOT and Jewels Helping Hands that it would seek an abatement, but hadn’t filed anything in federal court.

Brian Coddington, a city spokesman, said Friday morning that the city had always been pursuing the abatement process and that the federal order would clear the way for that to continue. But the city would also have the ability to negotiate with WSDOT about a future for the camp as it continues to establish the shelter it runs on Trent Avenue.

“This action clears the way for the City to follow the standard nuisance process through Superior Court, which requires judicial review before action is taken,” said Woodward in a statement Friday afternoon. “As with any neighborhood concern, we will continue our ongoing attempts to work with the property owner on a plan to remedy the situation before seeking court action.

“Our immediate next step will be to work with the state to finish getting individuals outside and out of the elements and restore the neighborhood that has been impacted,” Woodward continued. “We understand the urgency to meet both interests.”

Julie Garcia, a camp manager and director of the nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands, said after the hearing she was pleased both by the agreement and by apparent progress in working with Spokane County on a solution for those living at the camp.

“It’s what we’ve always wanted,” Garcia said. “Instead of burning bridges, we’re building bridges.”

Finer said negotiations began around 3 p.m. Thursday to settle the case, on the eve of the hearing on whether to lift the existing order barring a sweep. That order barring a law enforcement sweep will remain in place while the settlement agreement is negotiated, Bastian said from the bench Friday.

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