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'We make it easy to be homeless' | Spokane mayor announces proposed changes to city's camping, sit and lie ordinances

The city's camping ordinance has not been updated since 2018 and the sit and lie ordinance has not been updated since 2014.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward announced proposed changes to the city's camping and sit and lie ordinances that will limit when and where people are allowed to camp on city property.

The city's camping ordinance has not been updated since 2018 and the sit and lie ordinance has not been updated since 2014.

The current ordinance prohibits camping on city-owned public property when there is not enough shelter space. Spokane City Council recently announced an updated ordinance, but the mayor said she wants to take it a step further. 

"We make it easy to be homeless," Woodward said. "I know that's not a popular thing for some people to hear, but these ordinances and their updates are not to push people around. It is to push them into assistance."

Under Spokane's current illegal camping ordinance, camping is not allowed on public property and a person cannot sit or lie on the sidewalk between 6 a.m. and midnight. However, the ordinance is also not enforced if there is no shelter space.

Both the city council and the mayor's proposals call for removing the blanket exemption "when shelter space is unavailable." Both also allow for enforcement at all times in some specified locations.

Both proposals would also enforce the camping ordinance in the following areas:

  • Within 100 feet of railroad viaducts
  • Within 35 feet of the Spokane River
  • All city parks and city-owned property

Both proposals also have no effect on people camping on private or state-owned land, meaning the people camping in the lot near I-90 would be exempt from both ordinances.

Woodward's proposal, however, takes the ordinance a step further.

The mayor's proposes changes would expand enforcement to within a half-mile of city-supported congregate shelters, as well as within the boundaries of the Business Improvement District and the downtown police precinct.

This is the Business Improvement District boundary map:

Credit: City of Spokane

Under Woodward's proposal, camping would be illegal in all colored zones on the map. That zone stretches from Cataldo Avenue to the railroad tracks near First Avenue and from Walnut to North Division. The downtown police precinct has a wider footprint.

Camping would be illegal in the orange-colored area, which stretches from the north bank of Riverfront Park to I-90, then from Sherman out to near Inland Empire Highway.

The mayor said her recommendations are a compromise with the council. However, City Council President Breean Beggs said Wednesday was the first time he heard of Woodward's recommendations. He added this is not the best way to get city council votes.

Beggs and councilmember Lori Kinnear's ordinance only limits where people can set up a tent on city-owned property. Restrictions include around railroad viaducts, in city parks and near the Spokane River.

"The mayor and the other council members care a little bit less about what the law is and they just really want to make a statement," Beggs said. "They want people to feel like something is going to be done."

Woodward told the community on Wednesday that Beggs and Kinnear's ordinance is not enough and more places downtown need to be restricted.

"That proposal does not go far enough," she said. "It doesn't include the downtown district and that's where we want to be able to see enforcement and improvement." 

Beggs said those additions will make the ordinance unconstitutional, putting serious limits on where people can go. He added the mayor's recommended ordinance could push tents further into residential neighborhoods.

According to Beggs, he was not invited to the mayor's press conference, and if the mayor wants enough votes to get her ordinance passed, she needs to have a discussion with all other council members involved.

Beggs said she has not done that yet.

Both proposals will be discussed on Monday, July 11 in the Public Safety committee meeting. 

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