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Spokane City Council introduces discussion draft on illegal camping ordinance

This draft is the result of several months of collaboration between Council President Breean Beggs, Council Member Lori Kinnear and City Legal.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane City Council has announced a discussion draft of an illegal camping ordinance for community feedback.

This draft results from several months of collaboration between Council President Breean Beggs, Council Member Lori Kinnear and City Legal.

According to the city council, the ordinance updates reinforce the city's overall need for shelter space to abide by the Spokane Municipal Code of illegal camping in public areas.

"Since Martin v. City of Boise, which was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2019 that has prohibited enforcement of the camping prohibition on City-owned property subject to the availability of shelter beds, the City of Spokane has not updated its illegal camping ordinance," said Council President Beggs. "This updated draft language is meant to be a starting point for discussions among council members and is being released publicly to get community feedback on the best way to move forward to bring city code into better alignment with the Martin v. City of Boise ruling."

City council says the current draft presents the following three levels of enforcement:

  1.  Camping is prohibited on all City-owned property but may be subject to the availability of shelter beds to the extent required by Martin v. City of Boise.
  2.  Camping is prohibited at all times regardless of shelter availability in the following locations: Under any Downtown railroad viaduct and within 100 feet of one; Any City-owned park or park facility; Any portion of land within 35 feet of the Spokane River or Latah Creek.
  3. Camping is prohibited at all times, regardless of the availability of shelter beds, where such activity creates an unreasonable risk of harm or poses a substantial danger to the community, such as on the right of way where there is congested foot traffic adjacent to streets; or due to the potential for fires, damage to infrastructure or any other safety hazard; or where such activity poses a substantial health or safety risk to any person for any reason.  

Kinnear says the ultimate goal of the draft is not to move the problem of illegal camping from place to place but to get people referred to a safer location. The council member said that the site could include a designated area for campers who don't use shelters for various reasons.

"I look forward to hearing community feedback on this draft so we can work to improve our attempt to identify community priorities for illegal camping enforcement," Kinnear said.

City council says city park space is preserved and maintained to help benefit the public, both physically and mentally. Camping interferes with park preservation, maintenance and fair public use of these protected outdoor properties.

Ultimately, the city council says this ordinance intends to prohibit camping within the City of Spokane while encouraging the homeless to use available, low-barrier shelters and access community services open at Spokane Community Court. 

According to the city council, people subject to enforcement under the ordinance will be directed to community court by officer referral.

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