Homeless campers move into homeowners' backyards

SPOKANE, Wash. - Homeless camp garbage

Pills, garbage, rotting foods – it's not a collection you'd want in your back yard but that's exactly what homeowners in Northwest Spokane are dealing with as homeless campers move in and out of the woods in their backyards.

The biggest problem lies in the woods off Government Way just before the cemeteries. Ryan Oelrich has lived in that area for seven years and has seen camps pop up and disappear in that time, but he says the latest campsite has gotten out of hand.

"This particular camp has been an issue for just the last month and a half," Oelrich said.

The camp is about 100 yards behind his home in the woods near train tracks. Ryan hasn't involved the city or law enforcement yet, but says it's getting to that point.

"I know one of [the campers] is in jail at the moment so I'm hoping when he gets out that he is not coming back," Oelrich said. "We found a bunch of prescription pill bottles that have since been all thrown away but there's a whole bag of that."

This latest group of campers hasn't been seen for a couple of weeks, but the mess they left behind can't be ignored. Oelrich has found rotting food, clothes and abandoned tents among the other various pieces of refuse.

He's tried a peaceful approach with the campers by offering them bottled water and trash bags in the hopes that they'll clean up after themselves, but those gifts only added to the trash piles.

"The amount of trash continued to grow and grow and spread out and then finding it all over the forest, not just in the campground," Oelrich said.

Aside from the constant foot traffic through his back yard and trash left throughout the woods, Oelrich's home has also been burglarized multiple times. He's also found items that were once on his porch scattered throughout the woods.

Just three months ago, a new property owner took over the land where the campsites sit and a mobile home park nearby. The property owner says he's going to bring in a truck to clean up the mess next week and if the campers return he won't hesitate to call police.

"It's easy to think 'well the police should take care of it, the city should take care of it,'" Oelrich said. "Well what are they supposed to do? Where are these folks supposed to go? I understand that so I'm always racking my brain thinking 'what's the solution here?'"

The solution might be found through the City of Spokane and their Director of Community and Neighborhood Services, Jonathan Mallahan, points to the city's homeless outreach group.

"We housed over a hundred people in May," Mallahan said.

With one call to the city at 509-625-6730, the city will send their advocates out to the homeless campsite and offer services.

"It's a push/pull approach that pairs the push of law enforcement with the pull of services to get people into housing, that's why we were successful in rehousing and relocating individuals who were living under I-90 and that's our approach for continuing success in this area," Mallahan said.

Success that will hopefully come soon for Oelrich and his neighbors.

"I love this forest, I love this area and it just irritates the heck out of me when I'm on a beautiful run in the forest and come up on just a trash heap like this and that's then just left," Oelrich said.