The city of Spokane has launched a pilot program that aims to more quickly clean up illegal camps and refer individuals experiencing homelessness to community resources.
The new approach, which the city has been using since May 1, has Spokane Police Department and City Code Enforcement officers teaming up to address illegal camps. Previously, things like enforcement and cleanup were often done separately, says city spokeswoman Marlene Feist.
"Now we're able to deal with all the issues at the same time," Feist says.
Before last month, it typically took about 13 days to resolve a camping complaint, according to the city. In May, that was reduced to four days.
When a complaint is reported through the city's 311 customer service line, a team responds to the camp and immediately begins "cleanup," if there is shelter space available, the city says. If the camp is vacant, then the team posts a notice that it will clean up the site within 48 hours. If it's on private property, the team may trespass campers and clean up the site if the property owner gives approval.
Since May 1, the city says it responded to 169 camps, and 60 people were cited for illegal camping and referred to Community Court and connected with services.
City Councilwoman Kate Burke, however, has concerns with the approach. For one, she says it could lead to those at the campsites having nowhere to go if shelters fill up in the 48 hours they are given to leave. Secondly, she worries about what happens with the belongings of those at the campsites; what officers may see as trash could be important to people there, she says.
"Everything they own is at that campsite," Burke says.
Feist says the city is "still looking for solutions" to make sure there are secure places for people to put their belongings.
Mayor David Condon, meanwhile, supports the new approach.
"We want to make a positive difference for our community and for the individuals who are camping illegally," Condon says in a statement. "This approach helps us do both."