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State leaders respond to city, county plan for homeless encampment

Savanna Rothe | Spokane Public Radio
Spokane's Camp Hope is now surrounded by fencing, a change state leaders say is needed to keep residents safe.

State leaders are responding to the city and county’s decision to declare a 440-person homeless encampment on state land an emergency, and setting a deadline to have it cleared.

Eastern Washington administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation, Mike Gribner, said Camp Hope, as it is known locally, is the largest homeless community his agency has ever addressed. He said state leaders are following a checklist mandated by lawmakers and finding people housing, and making sure all residents are connected to addiction, or behavioral health services, takes time.

Gribner said the city’s deadline to have the camp cleared, November 15, is unachievable, and a misleading promise to make to Spokane’s East Central neighborhood.

“We're not going to promise it, and we're not going to buy into that rhetoric and it’s not just possible, without doing something like just sweeping the camp,” he said.

He said everyone left in the camp has signed a good neighbor agreement, promising to not use drugs in public, steal from other camp residents, or surrounding neighborhoods.

The state has said if local governments continues to push for the camp to be declared a chronic nuisance, through legal filings or otherwise, it may respond with a lawsuit.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said local leaders plan to move most of the camp’s residents to the Trent Resource and Assistance Center. There are already 150 people staying there, but Woodward said the site can expand to accommodate far more.

Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said it’s his goal to not involve law enforcement in moving the camp, but may people don’t move after the deadline.