The city of Spokane Valley is preparing to add more restrictions to its camping code, which bars people from living, or storing their belongings on public property.
The original ordinance is more than a year old, and city officials have never issued a citation or a ticket, said Morgan Koudelka, the senior analyst who manages the city’s homeless policy.
“We know in a lot of cases that piling on with charges and fines when they’re no means to address that, when someone doesn’t have a permanent address or a reliable source of income, it just doesn’t help the situation,” Koudelka said. “Instead we try to demonstrate to folks that we are here to help and that we can provide assistance.”
The city of Spokane, which has a similar ordinance, sends people who are cited to community court where they can connect with housing or mental health assistance. Spokane Valley does not have a community court. Koudelka said the city tries to connect people who are living in parks with resources before they’re at risk of being ticketed.
He said the city has used its outreach team made up of behavioral health workers and case managers to help 21 people who were camping find housing.
The current rules have a list of locations where camping is never allowed: Balfour Park, City Hall and Mirabeau Meadows. Camping is also prohibited in other places, but the rule is not enforceable when homeless shelter beds are not available.
The changes would add several locations to places where camping is never allowed. Koudelka said they would also carve out an exception for people who are currently seeking housing.
“The concept there is that there may be someone who is camping who is very vulnerable and any kind of displacement or engagement by law enforcement could really set them back the wrong direction,” he said.
He said the exception for those seeking housing was a request from law enforcement, which had concerns about unequally enforcing the law.
Koudelka said the added locations are public resources where camping would make them unusable for their intended purpose, such as a public restroom, or a picnic shelter.
The city is still reviewing potential changes to the ordinance and it may come before the Spokane Valley City Council later this month for a vote.