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Camp Hope residents sue to stop local governments from clearing encampment

Savanna Rothe
Spokane Public Radio
Residents of Camp Hope visit the resources tents, where visiting non-profits and state agencies help residents access services.

Residents of Camp Hope, a large homeless community on Washington State Department of Transportation land in Spokane, have sued local governments over plans to clear the encampment.

Camp residents, as well as Jewels Helping Hands and Disability Rights Washington, which are also suing, said clearing the camp is unconstitutional, and discriminates against people with disabilities, according to the lawsuit.

At its height, there were more than 600 people living in Camp Hope. More than 100 residents have already left to stay in shelters or other options, as the weather turned cold. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, along with Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, have said those remaining need to clear out by November 10.

Knezovich in a press conference last week said his goal was to avoid involving law enforcement, but may step in if people remain past the deadline.

Andrew Biviano, an attorney representing camp residents, said non-profits and volunteers have stabilized many elderly and disabled residents, and are working to finding them long term housing.

“It’s very scary for everyone who cares because they could end up on the street with nobody to help them,” he said. “They can't use shelter space very often because shelters aren't equipped to help people with that level of need, and it really is an urgent situation to make sure people have the ability to stay there with the help they need to stay alive.”

He says criminalizing everyone in the camp because of the actions of a few people, who may or may not be living there, is unconstitutional.

“The police and the sheriff can't just go in and evict everyone and throw them into the street,” Biviano said. “There has to be a system in this country to do things the right way. And that’s what this lawsuit is trying to do, is just to get a judge to remind the city and county to do this the right way, legally.”

Camp residents are asking a judge for an injunction to stop any potential sweep, as well as for damages and attorney fees.

Earlier this month, Spokane County Commissioners decided to sue the Washington Department of Transportation, which owns the land, to have the camp declared a chronic nuisance. The city of Spokane started its own chronic nuisance proceeding. State agency leaders have said they’re considering suing local governments if they interfere with the Right of Way Initiative – a policy adopted by the state legislature last session instructing state agencies to find housing for those residing on state right of way.
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Rebecca White