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In new lawsuit, city of Spokane moves again to close Camp Hope

The entrance of Camp Hope as seen in fall of 2022.

The city of Spokane is again taking legal action against the state of Washington in hopes of disbanding Camp Hope.

Last summer, Camp Hope had more than six-hundred residents living near Interstate 90 in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood. The Washington Department of Transportation, which owns the land, has contracted with a swath of non-profits to get people living there into better housing.

According to a count the state provided last week, about sixty-five people are left at the camp. Those remaining have the most barriers to finding housing.

Monday, the city of Spokane asked a judge to order the state to disband the camp – saying it’s a public safety hazard. They pointed to an explosion last week at the camp caused by a propane accident, as well as alleged criminal activities, according to the lawsuit.

In a statement, Spokane mayor Nadine Woodward said the city has been patient, and tried to work with the state. She said the city is intervening before more people in the camp, or surrounding neighborhood are hurt.

“The impact to the neighborhood and the risk of harm to those staying at the camp, the neighbors, businesses, and their customers, and anyone who passes by has become too great,” Woodward said.

In a statement, Washington transportation leaders called the lawsuit disappointing. They said they’ve worked to address the root causes of homelessness for those in Camp Hope. They said breaking up the camp while that work is still happening could jeopardize their progress and lead to another camp cropping elsewhere in the neighborhood.

“Such drastic action would not actually solve or reduce the homelessness crisis facing the City of Spokane; but simply continue the cycle of shuffling homeless individuals from one location to the next without actually addressing its root causes.”

Washington state agency leaders, including the Department of Commerce and WSDOT, had worked with city leaders in the past to close the camp. The city accepted funds to improve the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, a warehouse the city transformed into a large, congregant shelter to house Camp Hope residents and people at risk during extreme weather events. Last year the city and county also attempted to take legal action against the state to close the camp, but paused efforts after state leaders said they would not collaborate unless they dropped the litigation.

City and county leaders were also sued by a disability rights organization, camp residents and a service provider. That lawsuit, in federal court, alleged efforts to clear the Camp violated residents’ Constitutional rights.

The state also worked with non-profit Catholic Charites to open a permanent transitional housing project in Western Spokane. The facility has already accepted 72 Camp residents into the program and has capacity for 100.

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.