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Spokane law enforcement say they'll limit contact with Camp Hope

In the wake of a restraining order, Spokane city and county law enforcement say they’ll limit their activity at the state’s largest homeless encampment to only public safety calls.

Earlier this month, local law enforcement visited the camp with leaflets informing residents it would be closed. The leaflets included phone numbers for several homeless service providers, but no date for when the camp would be decommissioned.

Camp Hope residents won an emergency restraining order soon after. An attorney representing them said he feared law enforcement would break up the camp, which has a high percentage of disabled, and older people, without a place for them to go.

During a press conference Monday, Spokane County Sheriff-elect John Nowels said law enforcement was there in hopes of connecting people to services. But he said until a judge can review the case, officers and deputies will only go to the camp for an outstanding warrant, or if they’re called.

“I believe we would have to be very careful to not do anything that would be misinterpreted as asking them to leave, or vacate the premises,” he said. “I believe the language in the T-R-O is such that I don't know that I would want to tempt a federal judge to hold us in contempt, or violation of that order.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward has pointed to the recently opened Trent Resource and Assistance Center as a place for Camp Hope residents to go. This weekend she said more than 330 individuals were housed at the new shelter.

"Our outreach earlier this month at the Camp was an effort to provide information and education and also to engage with those staying there to offer alternatives to get out of the cold weather," she said. "Our priorities are two-fold. Getting people out of the cold while they connect to services, and making sure that the neighborhood knows we are still working on their behalf."

Pointing to the city’s building and planning department figures, she said more than 600 people could safely stay there. The Salvation Army, in a city council presentation last week, said they are working toward hiring the staff to manage up to 350 shelter residents.

A recent count from the Washington State Department of Transportation, which own the land where the camp is located, estimated there were around 370 residents still at the camp.

The Trent Shelter, when it was proposed this spring, was original slated to have 150 residents with an emergency capacity of 250. The building is a converted warehouse that does not yet have indoor plumbing or showers. A shower trailer, along with portable handwashing stations and toilets are located outside. All residents sleep in one room, which will soon be separated out by cubicle-like dividers.

A judge is scheduled to hear from both local governments and attorneys for Camp Hope residents December 28.