Camp Hope grows to small town population, many stuck without a choice

SPOKANE, Wash. — In a field just off I-90, a community has grown from a few tents to a population bigger than a lot of small towns in the Inland Northwest.

New details have surfaced about who is living here and why. It’s a reality check for the city of Spokane as it hopes a new shelter will clear the lot.

Camp Hope is becoming a political football, and while the city and advocates disagree on what to do about it, more than 600 people are calling tents and run-down RV’s their homes.

Of the 601 people living at the camp, only 51 of them said they’d go to a shelter, even though, for many of them, living there doesn’t feel safe at all.

“We lost my apartment, me and my puppy,” said Jessica Chavez. She moved to the camp in June and says it doesn’t feel like home. “Scary, as in at night time there’s fighting. There’s people yelling during the day. It’s just very scary. I’m not used to it.”

But she says she still can’t leave.

“What’s keeping me is my social security. We’re trying to fix that. I guess I don’t qualify,” Chavez said.

Barriers like this are what’s keeping most people at the camp. Jewels Helping Hands oversees Camp Hope and asked people, “why are you here” and “what would get you to leave?”

Ninety-nine percent of those living there say they need a new form of identification needed for jobs or housing, which costs money to get.

“My backpack got stolen about a month ago or so, now I’m back to scratch getting my ID again,” said Kelii Pawlowicz, who also lives at Camp Hope.

Pawlowicz has been homeless for three years and is still unable to get back on his feet.

“I don’t have a disability, I don’t have a job,” he said. “It’s hard maintaining a job for me even though I have good work ethic.”

Homeless advocates say those living at Camp Hope don’t have necessary life skills.

“The reason they’re still in the camp and their biggest obstacle for getting out is no life skills,” said Maurice Smith, a homeless advocate.

So for now, they’re stuck, all 600 of them, each with a unique story, in a community that’s growing bigger by the day.

“I would like to get housing and get my own place to get me out of here,” Chavez said.

Seventy-seven percent of people say what got them into Camp Hope were family issues followed by loss of income. So, where would they go if they don’t want to go to a shelter, and if or when this camp is cleared?

According to a new survey, every single one of them would go to a tiny home, something the city and county don’t offer.

READ: ‘Not a safe place’: Police say crime is up 58% near Camp Hope, business owners overwhelmed with damage

READ: Local advocacy groups don’t believe in mayor’s plan to clear Camp Hope

READ: Camp Hope occupants could be cleared out as soon as next month