Mayor Nadine Woodward’s re-election campaign has been working to convince voters that if her opponent Lisa Brown is elected, Camp Hope will come back – and this time, the homeless encampment would be in quiet neighborhood parking lots across the city.
Worse, the Woodward camp has argued: the Brown campaign is trying to hide the truth from the public.
“… Does she still believe we should have a Camp Hope in parking lots across our city?” Woodward asked on Twitter a little over a week ago. “Voters deserve to know.”
In response, Brown has claimed that Woodward is mischaracterizing a policy position that Brown hasn’t taken a firm stand on one way or another, all while the incumbent fails to address the issue of many homeless people already living in their cars parked across the city.
“The mayor’s engaging in a scare tactic here, because she believes if she does that, perhaps, it will distract from the central failure of her administration: not developing a response to homelessness,” Brown said in an interview.
During a Wednesday news conference in a Logan Neighborhood parking lot, Woodward pointed to a statement Brown had made in the spring about a range of options to “effectively transition” homeless people into appropriate services, with one of those possible bridges likely including “safe parking and tiny homes and other emergency housing.”
Woodward has seized on this statement, using the Wednesday news conference to further insinuate that Brown’s reference to “safe parking” would entail encampments throughout the city. More than a dozen Woodward supporters stood behind her, holding aloft signs that declared “Not In My Lot.”
Woodward invited Chuck Teegarden, former director of Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that had been located near the former Camp Hope homeless encampment, to speak about the experience of working near what was once the state’s largest homeless encampment.
“I had to escort my staff off to their cars at night, because it was too scary of a situation for them to endure,” Teegarden said. “I’m telling you it was a miserable experience, so, Nadine, you have to win.”
The Woodward campaign has noted that Brown’s statement about considering “safe parking” is no longer on the campaign’s website and has characterized it as Brown trying to hide an unpopular proposal.
Brown said Wednesday that nothing was manually removed from the website. The section of the site where the comment appeared in April was an automatic cross-posting from the candidate’s Facebook page, but the site feed eventually repopulates with newer posts, Brown added.
No posts from before May are still present on the campaign site, and the original social media post is still live on Facebook.
Brown also argued she wasn’t making a campaign promise to institute parking lot encampments, but was discussing a possibility being looked at by other cities. Bellevue has moved forward with a safe parking program that would allow those living in their cars to have a safe, legal place to park overnight while connecting to services to get them permanently into housing, Brown noted.
Bellevue has dedicated funding of up to $450,000 per year over two years for the program, but has been unable to find a service provider willing to operate the lot on city-owned property, the Seattle Times wrote in May.
Brown stated she would discuss such a program with the community if she’s elected before one would be implemented. In any case, she added, she would be likely to work with a nonprofit or find a city-owned lot if such a program were to move forward.
“The mayor is saying I want to set up a bunch of homeless camps, and that is false,” Brown said. “We have a lot of people living in their cars, and we should be talking about their situation as well.”
Woodward on Wednesday said that she wanted to see more housing built and additional services created “as soon as possible,” but did not offer a short- or mid-term plan for how to deal with the existing problem of people living in their cars in Spokane. She pointed to the creation of the Trent Avenue homeless shelter as a previous step in the right direction. As of Wednesday morning, the city reported that shelter had five beds available.