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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Chris Corry: No more excuses for Spokane to enforce camping ban

Chris Corry

By Chris Corry

In last year’s general election, Spokane residents approved Proposition 1, with 75% voting in support. The measure banned camping on public land within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds and day care facilities.

However, the city has not enforced the measure since it became law. According to the city of Spokane, not a single person has been cited.

The excuse for the lack of enforcement was questions about the ban’s legality under the ruling in Martin v. Boise. The 9th Circuit held that camping bans violated the Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) when there were insufficient shelter beds in a jurisdiction. Local governments could not “prosecute homeless individuals for involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public.”

The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson overturned the doctrine set in the Boise case. The Grants Pass decision declared that simply banning camping on public property does not violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision also eliminated ambiguity about Spokane’s ability to enforce the publicly approved ordinance. With potential legal challenges removed and a clear mandate from the residents of Spokane, it is time for the city to prioritize enforcement of the camping prohibition.

Spokane residents and visitors can finally get the beauty of their city back, and while some will undoubtedly label this as cruel, the true cruelty was in allowing people to destroy public spaces while doing the same to their own lives.

Those whose camps will be removed will not be alone. There are amazing social service groups that are willing and eager to help.

Spokane’s Union Gospel Mission is working daily to meet the physical, mental and spiritual needs of people on the streets of Spokane. They provide meals, food, and shelter for men, women and families. Their mission is focused on moving people out of homelessness. Groups like Reclaim Project Recovery and Adult and Teen Challenge are meeting the needs of homeless in Spokane by addressing addictions.

By ending the enablement of the current camps and focusing on the underlying causes of homelessness, Spokane can move people off the streets.

At Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner in Spokane on Sept. 20, the former federal homelessness czar, Robert Marbut, is coming specifically to engage with and offer solutions for the city’s homelessness problems.

Marbut, with extensive experience in working with homeless populations, has consulted on homelessness issues across the U.S. His career spans over three decades, including roles as chief of staff to San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, a White House fellow to President George H.W. Bush, and the founding president and CEO of Haven for Hope. Marbut’s impact extends to three U.S. presidential administrations, notably as the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. In 2007, he conducted a nationwide best practices study, visiting 237 homeless service facilities in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Since then, Marbut has visited a total of 1,348 operations across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico, significantly contributing to homelessness reduction efforts in numerous communities and agencies.

Joining Marbut in Spokane will be William “Billy” Baldwin (yes, that Baldwin). This unlikely duo has been working together to solve homelessness in America. While Baldwin is most famous for his acting career, his roots are in social and political advocacy. He worked on Capitol Hill before heading to Hollywood. He has teamed up with Marbut on the documentary “Americans with No Addresses” and the upcoming movie “No Address.” These two projects seek to help people understand the multiple reasons for homelessness and the solutions to reverse it.

Together, they will tour and meet with Spokane leaders and service providers to see the situation firsthand. They will then offer commentary and solutions to the community and share their findings in their keynote presentation at the WPC dinner (also featuring PragerU’s Dennis Prager).

The final partner in solving this is the people living it. They must accept the help they are offered. It’s a tough and complicated process, but the end of public encampments puts Spokane on stronger footing for the future.

Chris Corry is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center and lives with his wife and children in Yakima. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and sit on the organization’s board.