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State fires back at Spokane's push to clear I-90 homeless encampment

Both the city of Spokane, and Spokane county could soon end in court over the future of the state’s largest homeless encampment.

The city of Spokane has declared the camp, known as Camp Hope, a chronic nuisance and given the state a deadline to clear it.

Separately, the county has also authorized a lawsuit against the state arguing the camp’s a nuisance.

Washington Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said in a letter Friday his department and other state agencies are following the intent of state law, and they are making progress in finding housing for people in the camp. The letter also says if Spokane doesn’t back off, the state may sue the city.

“The City’s counterproductive approach of seeking to shift blame onto WSDOT rather than working collaboratively ignores not only the complex challenges at Camp hope, but is also constitutionally suspect,” he wrote.

Millar also put responsibility for the camp’s creation on the city, noting Camp Hope started as a protest over a shortage of homeless resources at Spokane City Hall before it moved to Department of Transportation land near Interstate 90.

He also cited a memorandum of understanding the city previously signed with the state addressing how the camp would be handled.

In that memorandum, obtained through a public records request, the city of Spokane agreed to cooperate and coordinate with the state on efforts to address homelessness in the camp. The state agreed to increase security and encourage people in the camp, as well as staff, to call the police in unsafe situations. The document was signed by Spokane city manager Johnnie Perkins and the Department of Transportation Eastern Washington administrator Mike Gribner one day before the city issued the chronic nuisance notice.

According to the chronic nuisance notice, police said there is drug dealing and use on the property, an increase in theft and disruptive behavior at nearby businesses. They also said the camp has produced excessive garbage, and sanitation issues.

The city proposed the Department of Transportation, as well as the non-profit assisting people in the camp, Jewels Helping Hands, relocate everyone living there by October 31 and have all trash and personal belongings cleared by November 15.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s office sent a statement Monday, saying the city and the state are still meeting and discussing the best path for the camp.

“There is general agreement on the steps that need to be taken with more discussion needed about the timeline to make it happen. The City has offered space in the Trent Resource and Assistance Center as a solution to completing the critical assessment work indoors with access to beds and meals. We’re still talking about what that or other alternatives might look like. The conversation is becoming more urgent with winter weather coming.”