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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Jean Richardson: Proposition 1 further criminalizes homelessness without offering solutions

Jean Richardson

By Jean Richardson

The League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area opposes city of Spokane Proposition 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot.

This proposition will amend Spokane’s municipal code (12.02.1010 A3) relating to the prohibition of encampments by adding section C as shown below: “At all times, regardless of the availability of shelter space or beds, it is unlawful to camp or store personal property, including camp facilities and camp paraphernalia, or to have unauthorized encampments, at any time in the following locations:

A. Underneath or within 50 feet of any railroad viaduct located within the Spokane Police Department’s Downtown Precinct boundary …

B. Within three blocks of any congregate shelter provided that signs are posted prohibiting camping that are clearly visible to pedestrians.

C. Within 1,000 feet of any public or private school, public park, playground or licensed child care center …”

This amendment would result in a “cruel and unusual punishment” as defined by Martin v. Boise, the 2018 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision based on the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This ruling determined “that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population.”

This proposition will result in further criminalizing homelessness without providing an alternative to an untenable situation. The camping ban proposed prohibits camping, regardless of shelter availability, and would make doing so a misdemeanor, resulting in a criminal record making obtaining permanent housing even more difficult than it already is in Spokane. The effect would be punishing the unsheltered for being poor and unable to afford the high cost of housing in Spokane, especially given the extremely low supply of affordable housing options.

A new map created by Rob Sauders, an Eastern Washington University professor of anthropology and geology, shows that this ban would cover 61% of the city, leaving only small pockets in neighborhoods and on the edges of town where it would not be illegal for the unsheltered to sleep. This proposition would simply move the unsheltered to less visible locations without solving the central underlying problem: lack of shelter and affordable housing.

Proposition 1 legislates where individuals experiencing homeless cannot exist. Ideally, people experiencing homelessness should not “camp” in front of downtown businesses, rights of way or in public parks. The League of Women Voters would like the city of Spokane to clearly communicate where the unsheltered can safely and legally live, without the fear of legal consequences or harassment, while they engage with service providers to gain access to housing, employment, mental health and substance use disorder services, as they wait for affordable housing to become available.

Jean Richardson is president of the League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area. She was born in Yakima and went to Central Washington University. After 30 years in the IT industry in Portland, she returned to Eastern Washington to live in Spokane in 2019.