by MICK LLOYD-OWENS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & ll seemed calm last week at the Doug Dawson Memorial Urban Camping Center, aka the "tent city" on Napa Street off Mission Ave. The property was raked clean and a man repaired wooden pallets to keep the tents off the cold, moist dirt. A lady pulled up to offer the homeless campers a box of food and supplies.
Yet despite the semblance of order, property owner Robert Gilles is under mounting pressure from the City of Spokane and some neighbors to disband the camp, which has been home for 20 to 40 people on any particular night since late in October.
"They say the neighborhood doesn't want us here -- that's not true," says camp resident, coordinator and "ad hoc mayor" Randy Somerville. "We've seen an outpouring of food and donations. Homes in the immediate neighborhood have opened up to us for bathing and laundry. They bring us meals." A large tent on the property is full of blankets, sleeping bags and boxes of canned food donated by churches and individuals. "I don't see the opposition as much as I see the good in the city of Spokane right now," Somerville says.
Some opposition was seen at a meeting last Thursday, however, during a neighborhood council meeting at Stevens Elementary School where Neighborhood Resource Officer Shaney Redmon was applauded for declaring the camp a chronic nuisance. If the police respond three times within 60 days to complaints such as disorderly conduct, excessive noise or reports of assault, a citation can be issued. Redmon says that eight or nine such instances have been documented. Angry neighbors at the meeting aired their fears of sex offenders kidnapping their children and shouted opinions: "If they can afford to drink, they can put their money together and get a place to live," someone said. "They are too lazy," said another. According to Stevens principal Mike Crabtree, crossing-guard presence has been doubled to ensure the safety of students who walk past the camp.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & C & lt;/span & amping on private property is a gray area under the law. Julie Graham of the Spokane Regional Health District says the only codes her agency can enforce are those that apply to a temporary occupancy situation, much like a construction site. "Inspectors have been out several times, and they are complying with the letter of the law," she says in regard to sanitation and trash disposal. The camp has also been visited by the fire marshal, whom Somerville accused of nit-picking, claiming that one prevention officer OK'd a vented burn barrel but another came by and disallowed it.
According to city spokeswoman Marlene Feist, no arrests or code violations are actually needed to issue a chronic nuisance complaint, because constant service calls -- if substantiated -- are a drain on city resources. Twenty-five calls were logged between Oct. 25-Nov. 16. Gilles responded to the chronic nuisance complaint within the allotted time with a list of questions, according to Feist, but the city is still waiting for him to present a concrete plan to address the issues that neighbors are calling the police about.
The camp is organized and has rules, a treasurer and a quartermaster. Campers are required to share duties and chores. Still, according to Officer Redmon, one problem is that nobody knows who is coming and going from the camp.
Misty Buchanan, who lives across the street from the camp, says she has not heard or witnessed any unbecoming behavior from the homeless, whom she describes as polite. She brings them coffee several times a day and allows them to fill their water jugs from her spigot. They raked and bagged her leaves in return. "Maybe I'm a sucker, but there's something about freezing people..." she says. "I can't put a roof over their heads, but I can give them a cup of coffee."