Spokane Homeless Advocates Organize To "Stop The Sweeps"

May 3, 2021

This photo was taken during a Spokane code enforcement/police sweep of a homeless encampment on the lower South Hill.
Credit Courtesy of Stop the Sweeps

Advocates for people who are homeless in Spokane are urging the city to stop its sweeps of outdoor encampments.

They’re also asking city officials to address more of the basic needs of people who live on the streets.

In late February Spokane Police and code-enforcement workers were filmed clearing an encampment on the lower South Hill. Joan Medina from the Spokane Homeless Coalition says people were uprooted and crews tossing their belongings into dumpsters.

“It was stuff like tents and sleeping bags and winter clothing. They were all the kinds of items that the different agencies and individuals had been donating to people on the streets," Medina said.

The video was posted online and widely shared “and everyone was pretty much horrified at what we were seeing," she said.

That motivated Medina and others from the homeless coalition to form an action group. That group has written a petition with six demands. Those include stopping the sweeps and the confiscation of property, as well as providing public toilets, handwashing stations and regularly-emptied trash bins at areas where people are most likely to camp.  

The Spokane chapter of the League of Women Voters, represented here by Dawn Shuster, has endorsed the petition.

“What can we do for the homeless population right now to understand their condition and to not be traumatizing people and to be humanizing people and to understand that they’re in an unwinnable situation. Where will they sleep tonight? They need a bathroom. They need trash disposal," she said.
 
The petition was circulated at a recent rally at City Hall. The group has posted it online at StoptheSweepsSpokane.org.

Since the late February sweep, advocates such as Ken Lee have tried to make sure the events were filmed and made available for public viewing. He says the extra attention hasn’t stopped the raids, but he says the process has become more humane.

“Now I show up and I see very much more of the handing out garbage bags and the kindly, ‘Gentle lady, can I clean up around here?’ by code enforcement. If that’s what they always did, they wouldn’t need police protection for that. People welcome help," he said.

The group is also asking the city to be more transparent about when it will move through encampments to give the occupants a chance to pack up before they’re asked to move on.