SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl sent a letter to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on Wednesday stating the homeless encampment near I-90 and Freya Street is "in danger of being declared a chronic nuisance" property.
The homeless camp near I-90, commonly referred to as Camp Hope, is currently home to approximately 600 people experiencing homelessness in Spokane. The property is owned by WSDOT and has been occupied by homeless campers for nearly 10 months.
In the letter, Meidl said multiple crimes have occurred at the encampment since its formation in December 2021, including littering, trespassing, drug use and distribution, burglaries, theft and, most recently, a drive-by shooting.
Meidl also outlined the living conditions at the camp, which he referred to as "unfit for human habitation" and a "serious threat to public health." He also said occupants of the camp "knowingly and maliciously threaten neighbors with bodily injury, property damage, and other acts."
Meidl's letter to WSDOT is the latest in a series of letters the state has received from Spokane officials. On Sept. 9, the city of Spokane sent a letter to WSDOT threatening legal action if the property was not clear by Oct. 14.
WSDOT and the Department of Commerce responded to the city of Spokane's letter on Sept. 20, stating the department would not clear out the camp until the city took accountability for it's role in the camp's growth.
Finally, on Sept. 23, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich sent a letter to WSDOT stating he intends to clear out the camp by Oct.14. On Sept. 28, he laid out a new timeline that he claimed is at the request of Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward. He now expects to clear out people and property at the camp from Oct. 25- Nov. 10.
Meidl outlined several incidents that have occurred at the homeless camp since Dec. 28, 2021. Notably, he described an incident that occurred on July 8, in which Spokane police officers responded to a reported burglary of the Make-a-Wish Foundation located near the camp. While officers used a drone to investigate, another drone was launched from somewhere in the camp and was used to crash into the police drone, causing damage to the Spokane Police Department (SPD) drone's propeller.
Officers were able to arrest the burglary suspect, who was found inside a tent at the camp. A search warrant was then executed on the suspect's tent, which led officers to discover piles of garbage, old car and bicycle parts, rotten food and other random items. Officers said they also noticed drug paraphernalia and human waste in the area.
The most recent incident outlined in Meidl's letter happened on Wednesday, where a man reportedly drove by the camp and fired shots before leaving. Police said it was not random and they believe the suspect was targeting one person at the homeless camp.
Read the full letter from Meidl:
Meidl said the above incidents and multiple others led him to serve the WSDOT property with a Chronic Nuisance Notice, adding the notice is an attempt to hold the department "to an immediate plan and course of action."
"The City of Spokane can immediately provide safer housing opportunities for all occupants of the property. Relocating the involuntary homeless to safer housing will enable all parties to provide services, benefits, and permanent housing solutions," Meidl wrote. "Winter is coming and the inclement weather, snow, and freezing temperatures present a real and immediate need for action."
Meidl also outlined "necessary corrective action" WSDOT must take in order to avoid the property being cited as a nuisance. This includes:
- Provide the city with an accurate count of the number of people on the property
- Begin transitioning campers to safer housing opportunities immediately
- Immediately fund outreach, assessment, housing, transportation and any other services needed to assist campers moving into safer housing
- Issue orders prohibiting people from remaining or entering the property by Oct. 31
- Fence and secure the property from trespassing
- Post and maintain "No Trespassing" signs in a visible, exterior area
- Immediately begin outreach, inspection, clean-up and vegetation management activities
- Encourage all management to report all criminal activity to the police
- Fully cooperate with the city of Spokane and SPD to address homeless encampments on WSDOT property
- Clean up and dispose of all trash and personal belongings left behind no later than Nov. 15
Washington State Patrol (WSP) is also asked to conduct civil standbys for WSDOT and to provide a police presence from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day.
WSDOT has 10 days from the time the notice was given to respond to Meidl. Failure to do so could results in further legal action against the department, according to Meidl.
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