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Spokane County to declare Camp Hope emergency

Rebecca White/SPR

The Spokane County Commissioners will vote today to declare Camp Hope, an estimated 400-person homeless encampment beside Interstate 90, an emergency.

That declaration will allow the commissioners to spend funds on camp issues without public hearings or a competitive bidding process.

Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney said during a briefing Monday, the goal was to quickly free up resources.

“I think it’s important that we are transparent with the public,” she said. “We are not trying to do harm to anybody, we really are trying to be compassionate. See how cold, and wet it was on Friday, and how the weekend was going, I'm really concerned.”

The camp is located on Washington State Department of Transportation land, which along with the state Department of Commerce, has said more time is needed to connect those living there to services, and housing.

Commissioner Al French said allowing the camp to continue during dangerously cold weather is an emergency.

“I'm concerned that our compassion is now reached a point where it’s becoming enabling, and at some point, you just have to take an action,” French said.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich initially said he wanted Camp Hope cleared by November 10. That’s also the same day a judge will hear the county’s lawsuit against the state, seeking to declare the site a chronic nuisance.

During the meeting Monday, he said the county may remove the camp December 1, when more shelter space is scheduled to come online.

He said he planned to try and follow the state’s requirements before clearing the camp: providing a safe storage space for all resident belongings, a place for residents to go, and a service assessment.

“The chief goal is to have this resolved without having to use any law enforcement,” he said.

The declaration has some concerned, such as Ben Stuckart, the head of Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium which is subcontracted to provide services to residents. He said the county's lawsuit, threats to clear the camp, and now emergency declaration, is causing fear.

“The city and the county, and everybody needs to stop arguing, stop putting fear in the people that live there, and let those service providers provide those services,” Stuckart said.

He said state agencies have visited the camp to provide birth certificates, and other primary documents. Service providers are also improving security, as well as other measures to decrease the impact on the surrounding East Central neighborhood.

The County Commissioners will vote on the declaration during their 2 p.m. meeting. The public can watch online, or attend in person at the public works building, which is next door to the county courthouse.