A cooling shelter erected to protect more than 600 homeless people from a heatwave was up and running on Monday — despite the city's order that the shelter come down by 9 that morning.
The order to remove the shelter came last week, when the city told the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) that the agency had a "legal responsibility to secure the property from illegal construction activity." In a notice of violation sent on July 28, the Spokane Fire Marshal said the shelter — which is on WSDOT land — had to come down by 9 am Monday or else the agency could face a daily fine of $536.
On Friday, WSDOT said they would not be complying with the city's order.
Their response came in a strongly-worded joint statement with the Washington State Department of Commerce.
"Ultimately, the safety and well-being of people is our paramount concern," the statement said. "In response to the city administration's notice of violation, the state will not take action during this extreme weather to remove the cooling shelter."
The statement goes on to say that the state has repeatedly asked city administrators to engage and find constructive solutions to ensure basic public safety and health standards are met, and to find safer shelter and long-term housing options for those camped on WSDOT property.
On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for WSDOT said that, to their knowledge, the agency had not received any fine from the city. The Mayor's Office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday and Monday afternoon. In a statement to KHQ, Mayor Nadine Woodward pushed back on the idea that the city hasn't helped the camp.
"We are required to follow the law and that may conflict with the actions of organizations providing assistance, but we are open and willing to find viable, legal solutions that meet the needs of individuals at the encampment," the statement said.
There were about 10 people using the cooling shelter on Monday morning. The excessive heat warning was originally supposed to end on Sunday, but over the weekend the National Weather Service extended it to Monday evening. Temperatures peaked around 105 degrees over the weekend, and are expected to reach a high of 99 degrees on Monday.
A man named Rick, who is homeless and asked that his last name not be included, was using the cooling shelter for the first time on Monday morning. He had heard the news about the order for the tent to come down, and wanted to come check it out for himself. It provides welcome relief from the heat, he says.
"It helps out," Rick says, "I don't know why they would want to take it down."
The cooling shelter was built last Wednesday by volunteers with Jewels Helping Hands, a nonprofit that has been organizing food and other assistance for the camp. Like Camp Hope itself, the tent isn't authorized and is technically illegal. But when the shelter was under construction earlier this week, WSDOT said they wouldn't do anything to stop it because they did not want people to suffer or risk death.
The city has extended the hours of city libraries and directed people to use them as cooling centers, but the closest one to Camp Hope is nearly a mile away. Julie Garcia, executive director of Jewels Helping Hands, has said the library shelters are inadequate because many residents are afraid to leave their tents unattended, and others have pets or mobility issues that prevent them from making the trip.