‘Just as bad as Seattle’: City of Spokane will enforce sit-and-lie ordinance as people ask for change

SPOKANE, Wash. — The City of Spokane is resuming enforcement of its sit-and-lie ordinance in the downtown area.

The ordinance prohibits people from sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between 6 a.m. and midnight. It impacts the area from Maple to Division and I-90 to Spokane Falls Boulevard.

The ordinance gives specific prohibitions and exceptions for enforcement, including when shelter space is available.

“We are setting an expectation that individuals take advantage of the opportunities available to them to receive services in a safe, healthy, and humane environment,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said. “Our downtown needs to be a safe and healthy place for everyone and living on streets, alleyways, viaducts, and fields is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Word that the city would start to implement enforcement comes a day after the new Trent Ave shelter opened. The shelter currently has 75 beds open and will open more over time, with plans to increase capacity to 250 beds.

The City says around 36 people spent the night there on Tuesday.

The City added that they will enforce the sit-and-lie ordinance based on the availability of shelter space the night prior. Police officers will also be able to call the shelter to inquire about available space and make a determination on enforcement based on that information.

“Our first priority is to get individuals connected to services that will help them take their next steps in their homelessness journey,” Woodward said. “Adding the enforcement element presents those who are reluctant to accept help with an option and an opportunity.”

For people who live and work in the area, homelessness is hard to miss. They know change won’t be easy but hope this enforcement makes a difference.

“It seems like there’s an awful lot of it here,” said Brian Gonzalez who moved here a couple years ago. “It’s getting just as bad as it was in Seattle.”

The mayor says better options are now out there since there are numerous resources in the community for those experiencing homelessness.

“Hopefully, people will choose the option to seek roof over their head, 3 meals a day, access to showers and restrooms and wraparound services,” she said.

Andrea Morris is ready for change.

“I do think that sit and lie should be enforced,” she said.

She works downtown and is worried about its direction.

“You get yelled at from random people sitting on the street,” Morris added.

These people hope the enforcement will clean up the streets to make the community safer and move people out of homelessness.

“The answer isn’t easy, but we definitely need to figure something out,” Morris concluded.

The Spokane City Council will consider an update to an unauthorized camping ordinance at Monday night’s meeting. The proposal, put forward by Council President Breean Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, includes the following:

  • Prohibits camping at all times, regardless of the availability of shelter space, underneath or within 50 feet of any railroad viaduct located within the Spokane Police Department’s Downtown Precinct boundary and within three blocks of any congregate shelter;
  • Prohibits camping at all times, regardless of the availability of shelter space, anywhere in the City where an officer can document that the activity poses a substantial danger to any person, an immediate threat, and/or an unreasonable risk of harm to public health or safety, or a disruption to vital government services; and
  • Prohibits camping along the banks of the Spokane River and Latah Creek unless there is no available shelter space.

The unauthorized camping ordinance and the sit-and-lie ordinance are separate from each other. Updates to the sit-and-lie ordinance are being discussed, but a formal proposal is not being considered at the moment by City Council.

READ: Trent Shelter opens its doors to the public