City of Spokane puts up fencing, clears campers from Sprague/Division underpasses

SPOKANE – Just days after police and a cleaning crew cleared campers and tents from under the railroad bridge at Sprague and Division, the city has now erected fencing, blocking most of the walkways.

City crews were putting up the fences Thursday morning. Several people who had been camping underneath moved to a sidewalk just northeast of the underpass.

The city previously put up fencing at the Browne underpass near the House of Charity. That decision was met with criticism from homeless advocates, but the fencing remains.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: City of Spokane adds fencing under Browne Street underpass

The new installation is also being met with disapproval. Within minutes of hearing about the move, developer Sheldon Jackson sent an email to Mayor Nadine Woodward expressing his frustration.

“You do understand that when you do this without fixing the problem, you are pushing the problems to other areas, especially areas not in the DSP (Downtown Spokane Partnership). You put a fence at Browne and Division turned to crap, now you put a fence on Division, what do you think is going to happen? You did not solve anything, just made another area worse. Why don’t we just put a big fence around Spokane?” Jackson wrote.

Jackson told 4 News Now that fencing is better for the underpasses, but just moves campers to other areas.

“Division was in good shape until they put up the Browne Street fence. Everyone just moved to Division. Now that they put up a fence at Division they will just move to another location,” he said.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, the mayor said she hears “far more people who are happy” about the fencing going up.

“Because their businesses are being impacted by the activity under the viaducts that’s not healthy or safe for anybody. Those are the people I will address right now because they’ve been asking for this,” Woodward said.

Woodward says the fences are a way to clear the homeless out of the viaducts and keep the area clean and safe for those who want to walk through. She said it’s been difficult for crews to keep up with all the trash and other activities that have been happening in the viaducts.

“I don’t know why we’ve got to the place where we think it’s okay for people to live under viaducts. That’s not humane,” she said.

Members of the Spokane City Council also expressed frustration, saying they did not know about the mayor’s directive until 4 News Now mentioned it.

“We had no idea. So, your text to me was the first I’d heard of it,” Council President Breean Beggs said to reporter Elenee Dao. “I did talk to the city administrator not long after that, and he apologized and said he forgot to tell council. And  that’s just really unfortunate.”

Beggs wishes the mayor would keep them in the loop, especially with what he says is a controversial topic.

“This is an operational decision I made, and this is my decision to make,” Woodward said.

This comes as the city prepares to welcome tens of thousands of people for Hoopfest.

Beggs believes the fences will only push the homeless to camp somewhere else. In this case at the Sprauge and Division area, just a few feet from where they started.

Maurice Smith, with the Spokane Homeless Coalition, agrees with Beggs. Woodward says she knows the fences will not solve homelessness, but rather just clean up the area and keep it safe.

“I come back to the reality that fences are a stunt and not a solution,” Smith said. “And when the city admits that it’s not a solution, why are you wasting good taxpayer money on something you know won’t work?”

Woodward says the fences will stay up “as long as they’re doing their job.” In previous interviews with 4 News Now, Woodward said the number of calls for service dropped for the Browne Street underpass once they put the fences up.

“When we put fencing up in the Browne viaduct, that was a pilot project. I had mentioned, at that time, several times that if there were other viaducts experiencing a level of activity, that presents an unsafe and unhealthy environment for our community and for the people under there, we’d replicate elsewhere,” she said.

Both the Browne Street viaduct as well as the Division, Sprague viaducts are the two she said she wanted to address right away, as the city continues to put in a new homeless shelter.

The City Council will review a lease agreement during Monday’s meeting. Beggs also said he has also been working with Councilmember Kinnear about putting in an ordinance to keep the viaducts clear but also follow the law in giving the homeless somewhere to sleep.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: ‘Housing, not fences’: Protesters urge Spokane mayor to take down Browne St viaduct fences

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