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Judge blocks city of Spokane, county from clearing Camp Hope

Savanna Rothe
Non-profits estimated Camp Hope had more than 600 residents this summer, but now has 416 people living there.

A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order barring Spokane city and county from clearing the state’s largest homeless camp.

In a filing Monday morning, Chief Judge Stanley Bastian of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington, said residents of Camp Hope would be irreparably harmed if they stopped receiving services and were removed from the temporary shelter.

“The public interest lies with keeping people in temporary shelter with services until the legal action is concluded,” Bastian wrote.

In an interview last week Andrew Biviano, an attorney representing Camp Hope residents and a non-profit helping them, argued that there aren't enough shelter beds available to remove the camp.

“Until there's an actual plan in place for people to know where they're going and where their next safe place is, it seems dangerous, and very harmful to us to have people be asked to move without that plan,” he said.

According to the ruling, the city and county are also barred from watching the camp with infrared technology. The sheriff has argued surveilling the camp with a helicopter equipped with the technology helped him count how many residents are living there. Critics have argued the practice amounts to searching the camp without a warrant.

The Camp is located on Washington State Department of Transportation land beside Interstate 90 in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood. The state has spent more than $24 million on providing services for the residents, and connecting them with housing.

State leaders have resisted the city and county’s efforts to quickly clear the camp, saying their plan to connect every single resident to shelter and other services is a stronger long-term solution.

In a statement last week, state leaders also spoke out against notices city and county law enforcement distributed stating the camp would be closed.

"The use of scare tactics and arbitrary closure notices with incorrect information hinder the process already underway to close Camp Hope safely and humanely, and it increases the risk that encampment residents will instead choose to disperse to new sites within the city," Washington state leaders statement read.

In a statement responding to the judges ruling, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said planned to stay focused on getting people out of the cold.

“We want people to know they have options other than living outdoors in the snow and freezing temperatures. We have added considerable space to our night-by-night inventory over the past few years as a bridge strategy while more permanent housing options come online and become available. Although it is a necessary asset, night-by-night space is expensive to operate and maintain. Permanent housing is the long-term sustainable option. Our message to people is to come in out of the weather while you get connected to a more permanent housing option.”

In filings opposing the restraining order, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and the county’s legal team said criminal behavior from those living there is impacting the surrounding East Central Neighborhood.

“The rights of the camp inhabitants do not and should not outweigh the rights of the neighbor’s reasonable enjoyment of their property,” the filing read.

Knezovich, and county attorneys said the 450 beds available at the Trent Resource and Assistance Center is enough to house the camp. He argues there’s closer to 240 residents, rather than the state’s most recent census of 416.

The Trent shelter, a converted warehouse, already has had more than 250 people staying there a night, and does not have indoor bathrooms available for residents. All residents sleep in one room and use portable toilets outside.

Most other shelters in the area have reported over the last few weeks they are at, or close to capacity, according to the city’s shelter tracking website.

The case will be reviewed by the court on December 28 in Yakima.

This story has been updated to include comment from Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and a statement from state leaders.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.