Despite bed space, homeless camp fills downtown underpass

SPOKANE, Wash. — A downtown Spokane underpass is packed with people again. A spot where tents, and trash and trouble seem to hang out.

This isn’t the first time 4 news now has covered illegal camping at the underpass on Browne Street in Spokane. For several years, we’ve been telling the same story. Now, we’re learning the problem is spilling over into its surrounding areas. Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Spokane told 4 News Now the plot of land across from their building has a history of people congregating.

No one will officially say the underpass is the cause of people illegally camping and loitering on the corners of Browne and Sprague, but it continues to be concerning, especially for the people who work around here everyday.

4 News Now covered the underpass on Browne Street in downtown Spokane last year on January 3. There were many people, and many tents, the walkway was even blocked in some spots.

One year later, it appears to be a very similar picture. Driving by, you can see people are camping illegally, and blocking parts of the walkway.

That’s not the only problem. According to Lutheran Community Services, they see similar problems near their building.

“Shouting, or crime, or drug or sex activity happening across the street from our building,” said Erin Williams, director of Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Spokane.

The problems are occurring kitty corner from their building as well.

“The lot across from that on the south side of Sprague and Browne on the other side of Browne, it is also undeveloped. So it is welcoming of campers and loitering,” Williams said.

Last year, Spokane Police mapped the area, looking for places that might draw criminal activity. The project is called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design. The results showed them the same thing LCS staffers see on a daily basis.

“Old railroad ties coming down and lots of places to hide, or hide things. And it can get kind of messy, kind of dirty,” Williams said.

Making it hard for them to do their jobs, working with trauma survivors.

“Boy, coming downtown alone is a big commitment because of crowd anxiety. It is a natural common response for trauma victims being worried about running into their perpetrator,” Williams said.

There were recommendations to the city from the mapping project last year, but LCS said other than STA moving a bus stop, they haven’t seen much movement on landscaping or a possible gate.

You might be asking about the city’s sit-and-lie law, the city is allowed to enforce it as long as there is shelter space available. As of Monday night, there was. According to the City of Spokane, there are 780 beds total available to the homelessness community.

“Since November 15 based on reports received by the Homeless Management Information System there have only been a few nights that there was not space available and the majority were families in need. Since Catholic Charities Rising Strong opened in December, there have been beds available for all populations,” said Kirstin Davis, a communications manager for the City of Spokane.

Davis said when a sit-and-lie citation is issued, it requires the person to appear in Community Court at a later date.

The city said it’s very common for people to leave the area when they’re asked by code enforcement, wait for the city clean, then return to the spot.

According to the city, as of Monday, there have been five calls to 311 in the last week for the underpass and more than a dozen in the last month.