SPOKANE, Wash. — Campers in front of Spokane City Hall began packing up on Thursday as a notice from the city to vacate took effect. The group is protesting what they say is a lack of adequate shelter space.
As the campers packed up tents and other belongings, most of the group headed to a vacant lot on the north side of I-90 near Freya. The land is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation. WSDOT and the Washington State Patrol said they are aware of the campers at the vacant lot and will be monitoring the situation.
As of Thursday afternoon, there have been no orders to remove the campers from the new location. If WSDOT did seek to clear the lot, people camped there would be given 72 hours notice to leave, according to WSP.
Homeless residents and advocates had been camping out in front of city hall for a week in hopes of encouraging the city to take action in increasing new shelters for those enduring the cold winter months.
Demonstrators will be allowed to stay outside City Hall but need to remove their personal property, including tents and bikes.
In the notice issued earlier this week, the City of Spokane told campers to remove their belongings and informed them that any items left behind could be discarded. Brian Coddington, a spokesperson for the City of Spokane, explained the notice to remove property was issued due to growing safety and health concerns within the tent city protest.
"The communication that's been made with those who are out front is related to growing health and safety concerns, and considerations, both for sanitation and garbage issues, but also for the communicable diseases," Coddington said. "So COVID, but also other communicable diseases."
Code enforcement will throw out any garbage left behind, and anyone leaving personal belongings after the deadline can have code enforcement store their property. Coddington said those with property being held by code enforcement will be able to retrieve it for free.
Coddington said the city has added beds through additional shelter space as well as renting out hotel rooms, but those protesting contend it’s not enough.
"I'm moving with Jewels [Helping Hands] to a new location right now and most of them, certain ones are staying behind to finish the protest here and some are going to move to a different location to do another one there," said Shannon Jones, who took part in the protest outside of City Hall.
This comes several years after a similar protest outside city hall in December 2018. Demonstrators set up about two dozen tents in front of city hall in late November before Spokane police and city crews cleared the encampment.
Late homeless activist Alfredo Llamedo was one of those who took part in the protest. He was arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer during the clean-up process, along with a 20-year-old man.
Organizers have referred to both protests in front of city hall as "Camp Hope."
Shelter bed availability
Coddington said on Monday that low-barrier shelter availability has ranged from 91 to 100 spaces over the past three nights. Low-barrier shelters are facilities that do not require people to be sober or attend chapel. At that time, Coddington said the city had not established a timeline for moving the tents.
According to Coddington, there were 104 total beds available Wednesday, with 92 of those being low-barrier beds and 36 being for young adults. Twenty were available for households or women with children. Thirty-nine were low-barrier beds for men, while there were no low-barrier beds for women without children.
Coddington also says there's more bed space in the works.
"Mayor Woodward proposed a new low-barrier shelter outside of the downtown core. In that budget was funding for that and the council did approve that as part of the budget on Monday. So, that is something that's coming to us in the next year," Coddington said.
However, on Tuesday, Hope House spokesperson Raelynn Barden said the shelter in downtown Spokane has 100 beds for women that have been at full capacity for the last week. On Monday night, staff turned two people away as the shelter was full.
Some homeless residents who are taking part in the protest say they have not sought shelter space, while others say they have been turned away due to barriers at shelters. At a meeting on Monday night, Spokane City Council adopted a resolution to offer 40 hotel rooms when the 24/7 Cannon Street shelter is full.