Washington AG enters fray against Spokane homeless camp shutdown | Washington
Washington AG enters fray against Spokane homeless camp shutdown | Washington

Source: Google News

(The Center Square) – A large homeless camp on Washington State Department of Transportation land in Spokane has become ground zero in the ideological war about how to address homelessness.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has now entered the fray by joining forces with service providers who are seeking to stop Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich from disbanding what has been dubbed Camp Hope.

“Simply put, the legislature has pivoted away from—when reasonably practicable—forceful sweeps in favor of holistic, longer-term solutions and services when addressing encampments on state-owned rights of way,” Ferguson said in a statement of interest filed to support the case for an emergency injunction against Knezovich’s plans.

“Although slower than the local jurisdictions’ preferred option of immediately closing/’sweeping’ the site, WSDOT and [state Department of] Commerce’s plan is consistent with this approach. In contrast, the undefined ‘plan’ at issue, in this case, to immediately remove people and property frustrates the legislature’s goals and would likely result in scattering the unhoused into the streets and neighborhoods of Spokane.”

Ferguson was weighing in on the petition filed by Jewels Helping Hands, Disability Rights Washington and several camp residents late last week for emergency relief from the court. The petitioners are seeking a temporary restraining order against Knezovich and local officials wanting to shut down the camp as soon as possible.

The petitioners claim that court intervention is necessary to “prevent irreparable harm to plaintiffs and the exceptionally vulnerable residents of Camp Hope.”

Ferguson entered the case last Friday. He told the court that his office could provide information “which WSDOT believes is germane to the court’s consideration of the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, and to respond to certain statements made within the briefing pending before the court.”

Ferguson said WSDOT’s decision not to take legal action to close the site in East Central “should not be constructed as, and is not, permission by WSDOT for the individuals living at and the property located at the site to remain, let alone indefinitely.”

Ferguson was highly critical of law enforcement officials going into the camp last week to pass out notices that residents could prepare for closure, and providing a list of available resources. 

“The law enforcement officers provided no specific date of closure, which was purportedly an intentional decision,” he wrote. “The visits were immediately decried as intimidation and a show of force by those at the site, and interrupted the efforts of service providers retained by the state to progress its transitional housing policy decisions (including those from The Catalyst Project finalizing paperwork for individuals scheduled to move there).”

He was referencing Catholic Charities opening the doors of a renovated motel on Sunset Boulevard, referred to as the Catalyst Project, to provide temporary housing for 100 people.

The same parties that filed for the emergency injunction have initiated a civil rights case on behalf of camp residents. They are asking the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington to stop a shutdown of the camp. Their central argument is that WSDOT as the landowner has not asked people to leave so they are not trespassing.

The plaintiffs and state agency contend it will take weeks if not months to find adequate housing, especially shelters that provide wraparound services to treat addictions and mental health issues.

Knezovich and Mayor Nadine Woodward counter that shelter space can be found for up to 450 people left at the camp, and that it is inhumane to leave people out in the cold during the winter months.

The sheriff, in concert with the Spokane County Commission, has sought a abatement warrant from state court for the “chronic nuisance” of Camp Hope. Knezovich said crime inside and around the camp poses a public safety hazard, and sanitary conditions, including human feces on sidewalks, is a public health problem.