SPOKANE, Wash. - The City of Spokane has formalized a coordinated approach to address illegal homeless camping within the City. The approach is designed to provide individuals with opportunities for social service assistance before proceeding with an enforcement action.
"Our goal is always to provide services to those in need first," says Jonathan Mallahan, the City's Division Director for Community & Neighborhood Services which is leading the City's efforts. "But we will enforce City ordinances that prohibit camping on public or private property without a permit, if individuals are unwilling to accept help, in order to protect public health and safety for those within illegal camps and the community surrounding them."
The City is partnering with the Spokane Homeless Coalition's Interagency Outreach Committee to offer housing and social services to individuals who are camping. The City also will provide a minimum of 24 hours' notice before proceeding with any enforcement action, which would require the removal of tents, tent structures, and solid waste. Enforcement of City ordinances will be managed by the Spokane Police Department with the support of Code Enforcement.
The City and social service providers don't see homeless encampments as a viable solution to homelessness. The community's 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness calls for helping people transition into permanent, sustainable housing options. The City and the community annually invest millions into affordable housing and related services that help people make that transition.
The City adopted ordinances that require permits for camping on public or private land in support of that strategy.
Permits require specific plans to address potential public health and public safety problems, including plans for handling solid waste and wastewater, providing fresh water, managing cooking fires, and addressing security concerns.
The City's transient shelter ordinance addresses camping on public property and allows for up to two permits of 14 days' length each. The ordinance is more stringent for camping in public parks. Those permits are limited to two, three-day permits.
The separate homeless encampment ordinance deals with camping on private property; permits for camping on private property are allowed for up to 90 days.
The camping issue has risen to the forefront in recent weeks, as individuals have chosen to set up unpermitted camping sites under and near the I-90 viaduct in downtown. During that time, the City has been working to connect individuals with services.
The coordinated approach will be used at all camping sites, not just those in the City core. The Spokane Homeless Coalition Interagency Outreach Committee also is collecting information from individuals who have been camping to help the City better understand the needs and barriers to housing and services of those individuals. The information will help the City develop long-term strategies to assist those who are homeless.
The City will proceed with enforcement actions, if needed, on camps in the I-90 area over the next week after the Outreach Committee completes its information collection work.
"Work to end homelessness requires a long-term commitment, combined with short-term responses to issues as they arise," Mallahan says. "The City is dedicated to working with the community, including our homeless citizens, to find solutions."