Homeless advocates want city to allow tent city

SPOKANE, Wash. - Homeless people are camping out already, so now one man wants to go ahead and set up a tent city for them under Interstate 90 in downtown Spokane.

They're already camping under the freeway, right at the entrance to the City of Spokane, a makeshift camp that has led to vandalism, walls of businesses being used as bathrooms and regular evictions by the Spokane police enforcing city ordinances.

But Ralph Harvey said the homeless should be able to camp there and, he's convinced, it would actually clean up the problem.

Tent City proposal

"We're trying to get a tent city started here in Spokane," he said.

City laws say, you can't camp under the freeway but people do it anyway. So, the idea of a permanent camp doesn't sit well with nearby businesses.

"I just don't think here is the place. There's been garbage, there's been illegal activity," Tim Redmond of Divine's Auto Center and Towing said.

Harvey, and his wife Becky, however do think it's the place for it, and are proposing that less than 100 people could stay there, and there would be rules to residing there: no drugs, no alcohol, no sex-offenders and no fighting.

"We'd rather it be clean and sober area and a safe place so that people know they can come to and with their stuff, if they want to leave it behind will be safe," Becky Harvey said.

Another reason to create it: Love. Ralph Harvey said a number of shelters separate men and women for safety reasons.

"But if you're a couple and you do not want to be separated, they can come to tent city and be able to be together," Harvey explained.

The problem is the City of Spokane has a transient shelter ordinance to keep long-term tent cities away. Proper garbage and sewage disposal are required and if they pass that test tents could only stand for 14 days.

"In the past, before that ordinance was passed and those tent cities existed for more than two weeks, then you start to see people gravitating towards those and you get the wrong element," City Council President Ben Stuckart said.

Stuckart added that three Honey Buckets will be placed under the freeway this week, which will hopefully address the problem of homeless people defecating on the walls of businesses near the Division St. exit.

As for Harvey's proposal, the city said it will discuss the idea, but revisiting and rewriting the transient shelter ordinance is not a high priority right now.