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Sit-and-lie v. Illegal camping: What's the difference between Spokane's two ordinances?

Although the city's sit-and-lie and illegal camping ordinances have some similarities, the two have different restrictions across different areas of the city.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward announced Wednesday that the city would begin enforcing its current sit-and-lie ordinance. She also announced that the city council would vote on a revised illegal camping ordinance during their next meeting on Monday.

The announcement comes as the new homeless shelter on Trent Avenue opened its doors to the public on Tuesday.

Although the city's sit-and-lie and illegal camping ordinances have some similarities, the two have different restrictions across different areas of the city.

So, what's the difference between the two?

Sit-and-lie

Spokane's sit-and-lie ordinance prohibits sitting or laying on a public sidewalk between 6 a.m. and midnight every day. This includes lying on a blanket, sitting on a chair, stool or any other object that can be put on a public sidewalk.

The ordinance prohibits sitting or lying on any drinking fountain, trash can, planter, bicycle rack or any other sidewalk fixture that is not designed to be sat on. It also prohibits sitting or lying in any entrance or exit from any building, parking lot or loading dock.

These restrictions apply in an area roughly from Maple to Division streets and Interstate 90 to Spokane Falls Boulevard. The ordinance defines specific prohibitions and exceptions for enforceability, including when shelter space is unavailable. 

There are exemptions to the rule, including sitting or lying down due to a medical emergency, participating in a parade or festival or operating a business with permission to occupy the sidewalk.

Spokane's current sit-and-lie ordinance was passed in 2014 and has not been updated since. The city stopped enforcing the ordinance in 2018 due to not enough shelter space being available at the time. Enforcement also stopped in June 2021 when the Way Out Homeless Shelter closed its doors.

Now, however, the Trent Avenue shelter, which the mayor has said can hold 250 people, allows the city to begin enforcing the ordinance once again.

To read the city's full sit-and-lie ordinance, click here.

Illegal camping

Under Spokane's current illegal camping ordinance, camping is not allowed on any public property, including conservation lands and natural areas near the Spokane River. However, the ordinance is also not enforced if there is no shelter space.

This ordinance has not been updated since 2018, but the Spokane City Council is preparing to consider an update to the ordinance during its meeting on Monday night. The changes were drafted by the mayor in coordination with the city council.

Both the city council and the mayor's proposals allow for enforcement at all times in some specified locations. The proposed changes would also prohibit camping at all times, regardless of the availability of shelter space, anywhere where an officer can document that the activity poses a substantial danger to any person, an immediate threat or unreasonable risk of harm to public health or safety, or disruption to vital government services

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

  • Within 50 feet of railroad viaducts located within the Spokane Police Department's Downtown Precinct boundary and within three blocks of any congregate shelter
  • Along the banks of the Spokane River and Latah Creek unless there is no shelter space available

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.

To read the city's current illegal camping ordinance, click here.

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