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WSDOT questions timing of Spokane lawsuit over Camp Hope

The camp has reduced in size by 86% since October, WSDOT says. The City of Spokane says the camp is a chronic and drug nuisance property.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington's Department of Transportation (WSDOT) calls the City of Spokane's lawsuit over Camp Hope a surprise and a disappointment.

The encampment along I-90 is down to 65 people as of last week, an 86% decrease since October's count of 465, according to WSDOT.

In filings Monday, Spokane asked a county judge to declare the camp a nuisance property and to issue a warrant allowing them to clear it. The city alleges the camp "continues to create a substantial financial burden and pose a significant strain on the city" due to the alleged crimes and conditions at the camp. 

"Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise because what we've been asked for is progress and that's what we continue to show each and every week down here," said Ryan Overton, communications director for WSDOT East.

The city's lawsuit calls Camp Hope dangerous, accusing the state of failing to stop drug and criminal activity.

The city detailed instances of drug activity, property crime, litter, reckless burning, vehicle prowling, auto theft, burglary, harassments, rape and threats to public health in the complaint. Most recently, a tent at the homeless camp accidentally caught on fire.

The complaint claims the state failed to stop drug and criminal activity and failed to prevent camp occupants from entering property on the camp with the intent to commit crimes. It also claims the property is being used to sell or give away drugs and the occupants are "knowingly and maliciously threatening neighbors with bodily injury, property damage, and other acts."

"How can they be so sure all of the crime within the area is actually associated to Camp Hope?" Overton asked. "We have a significant number of people who try to get in."

He says one camper's RV was recently broken into by someone who isn't from camp. 

Overton also questions the timing of the lawsuit since camp is continuing to shrink, especially with Spokane's housing situation.

"And now we've got the Cannon Street shelter closing at the end of May, TRAC is nearly full. There's still 65 individuals here at camp, if they come in and remove all those individuals, where are they gonna go?" he said.

WSDOT says its worked with its partners at camp to not only relocate campers into housing but they're providing job training and other resources on site.

"Not just push people around to other locations in the city, but actually solve the root cause of homelessness," Overton said.

He fears closing camp before that work is done could push the homelessness problem, and more people, back into the streets.

"Just let us close it, at this point," he said. "That's been our goal all along is to close Camp Hope."

Ultimately, the city is asking for the judge to declare the camp a drug, public and chronic nuisance and to grant a warrant of abatement. If the warrant is granted, the city said it would authorize immediate closure of the camp and allow for the property to be cleaned. The city is also seeking reimbursement for the costs the city reportedly incurred from the camp.

WSDOT will argue its case to a Spokane County judge in court Thursday afternoon.

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