SPOKANE, WA – The Trent Shelter is just one step closer to being a real opportunity for Spokane’s homeless population.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, a 6-1 vote voted to continue the lease.
As part of the city’s plan to make this new accommodation a success, the council also drafted two separate revisions to the illegal camping ordinance to gather feedback from the community.
In 2018, Spokane instituted a citywide policy to restrict homeless people from sleeping in certain neighborhoods. It was enforced for about a year, until a Boise court case said it was too broad. Since then, there has been much confusion about what officials can and cannot enforce.
“As long as they keep them clean, they don’t mess with them,” said Oliver Stuart, who has been homeless in Spokane for five years. “The city comes on that walk, they look and go because it’s clean. But a lot of the blocks aren’t spending as much time as they used to, I know that.”
Stuart knows what it’s like to keep moving.
“I’ve been sticking to the no-sit-and-lie-down schedule, so all this stuff at 6 a.m. is broken even in the middle of winter,” he said. “Rules are rules. For real.”
But these rules are constantly changing.
“The situation we’re in now is that there’s no enforcement,” said Michael Cathcart, a member of the Spokane City Council.
“It just depends on whose mood it’s the mood of the inspector or the mayor’s office or the latest story,” said Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs.
The opening of a new homeless shelter in Spokane goes hand-in-hand with the camping ordinance.
Where shelters are available, camping is banned everywhere, including places like Camp Hope.
If no shelter is available, the city cannot enforce the camping ban.
However, there are two proposed changes to the current regulation.
It is said that even if there are not enough shelters, camping would be near downtown railroad lines, in city parks, on any land near the Spokane River or Latah Creek, or in places where safety is an issue , still forbidden.
The second revision basically just expands on which areas are taboo.
“This includes urban lots, including downtown, including the half-mile radius where shelters are expected to congregate,” Cathcart said. “And then also the 1000-foot distance around educational institutions, schools and the like. And that limits the leeway in a way that allows us to comply with the regulations.”
The second option also allows daytime enforcement in business districts
“There are many homeless people who really don’t cause a problem, many of them are good people, many of them offer a lot of help here. But what comes with it, there are many who cause problems, cause fights, break the law, they’ll trespass,” Sunset Grocer manager Dillan Shaules said he’s dealt with a lot over the years. “Years have she did nothing.”
He believes a strict set of rules will help.
“If they offer options, why not take them,” he said.
Stuart tells me he’s good with the rules, but only if it’s communicated.
“A lot of us don’t have access to information, it’s all hearsay,” Stuart said. “Police say it’s just our job as citizens to know. One way or another we have to find out.”
The shelter in Trent is scheduled to open on August 1st.
The big question now is when this shelter opens, will our homeless people leave? And if they don’t and we start really enforcing this illegal camping policy, what will that look like?
These two rework ideas are just ideas for now. The Commerce Department recently announced that it will provide up to $24 million to house the homeless population, including those at Camp Hope. The city is now trying to get that plan and contracts with a 30-day clock. At the moment there is not enough housing space to move the 500+ people at Camp Hope alone. The city is considering options such as a hotel that would house 100 people, another more secure camp that’s gated, serviced locations where people would park their RVs and cars off the highway, with bathrooms, and even ways to squeeze more space out of existing ones shelters.