SPOKANE, Wash. — It's a new approach to dismantling homeless camps, the City of Spokane is trying to clean up camps faster. Outreach teams work with people who are camping, to help connect them with the services they need.
Homelessness looks different for each person, some stay in shelters, while others camp across the city.
In Spokane, it is illegal to camp on public property within city limits. Carly Cortright with the city said it's a growing problem.
Cortright said they typically respond to 40 camps a month, but in May they responded to nearly 200 camps.
Who is responsible for cleaning up a site depends on where it's located and sometimes multiple departments have to help with area, which can delay the process of clearing the camp.
"That led to long response times, lack of coordination and an understanding of who had cleaned it up or who had not cleaned it up,” Cortright explained.
Now the city is trying a new approach to combat illegal camping with what they're calling a pod or team approach. They send a group of people to all reported illegal camps to not only clean up, but also point people in the right direction.
"The quicker we can get to these camps, the less waste there is and we can respond quicker and get services to people in need a lot quicker,” she said.
Instead of individual departments responding to an illegal camp, a team of resource officers and police will visit the areas, which maintains safety for city responders. The new team approach, includes Spokane Police Department Neighborhood Resource Officers and City Code Enforcement, and the City Litter Crew.
In a press release, the city said the team assess the camp and determines the best course of action. If shelter space is available and the camp’s occupants are present, cleanup begins immediately if the camp is on public property. If the camp is vacant, the team posts a 48-hour notice of its intent to clean up the site, and then proceeds with a cleanup after the notice has expired.
Since, it's illegal to camp, people are given a citation, and so far about 70 people have been cited.
The citation is less heavy handed than a ticket, it's more of a referral to community court. This is where people experiencing homelessness will have access to a hub to find shelter and assistance in Spokane. Social service outreach teams also work with individuals who are camping.
"We'll provide outreach, let them know if there's service, shelter space where they can go, and then we'll clean up the camp around them,” Cortright said.
Cortright said the program is already seeing results, since the launch they’ve reduced the number of days to resolve a camping complaints to four days from 13 previously.
If you spot illegal camping on public or private property you can report it to the city by calling 311.