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State agencies say they won't remove I-90 homeless camp despite city demand

In a scathing letter this week, several state agencies said they would not clear a large homeless encampment beside I-90, despite the city of Spokane’s demands.

Leaders of the Washington State Patrol, Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce said the deadline is arbitrary and irrational. They said the city’s newest shelter, a converted warehouse on Trent Avenue, doesn’t have enough beds for everyone at the camp, and other housing options aren’t ready yet.

“Sadly, to date the city seems more preoccupied with blaming the state for the problem it ultimately played a hand in creating and not acknowledging its own roles and responsibilities regarding the residents of its own city,” read the letter, signed by Roger Miller, Secretary of WSDOT, Lisa Brown, Secretary of the Department of Commerce and John Batiste, chief of the Washington State Patrol.

City leaders argue the camp is a sanitation hazard, and a chronic nuisance. The Department of Transportation, which owns the land the camp sits on, and the two other agencies, said the camp will be moved once housing and shelter is available for the people living there.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s office had told the agencies to have the camp moved by mid-October because of violations of the city’s nuisance laws. She said after receiving the agencies response, she plans to meet with them to develop a new timeline.

"The City has spent nearly $400,000 dollars to mitigate those issues, the private security, and the twelve hours of police overtime every single day," she said. "So our focus has been on the impacts."

She said the agency's accusation that her office is more focused on optics than the humanity of the people in the camp, isn’t true. She said the deadline was meant to be proactive.

“And now that we have a shelter open that can accommodate even beyond 250 if we need to, that would be a better option than them in a tent during the winter months.”

She said she believes there is enough space across existing shelters and doubts there are 600 people living in the camp, which is the population group Jewels Helping Hands has estimated lives in the camp. Woodward says the meeting with the state agencies will determine whether the city continues to press state agencies on chronic nuisance violations.

The camp started after a group of homeless activists protested in front of City Hall. When the city was preparing to clear the camp, known as Camp Hope, the protesters moved to East Central to a vacant lot on the West side of I-90. When surveyed by Jewels Helping Hands, they found the vast majority of people at the camp would prefer to stay in lockable pallet houses, over a large, congregant shelter setting.