Homeless camp near Liberty Aquatic Park to be cleared by new city team

It’s been causing some trepidation for residents around Liberty Aquatic Park for a while now. A large homeless camp, with numerous tents and residents.

Locals say they worry about fire danger and others have been concerned about the risk to park-goers and those who use the Ben Burr trail.

“I moved up here from downtown to get away from the downtown area because of the drugs and crime,” said Wendy Thomas, who’s homeless. “I can’t get an ID, and without an ID I can’t get housing.”

She’s slept on the streets and in the alleyways, and about a month ago landed at this camp.

“Its hard to find a place to not be harassed, or get things stolen,” she said.

Bottom line though, they have been asked to leave the vacant lot they are currently on.

The city has had the campsite on their radar for the last week or so and have begun steps to clear it up. This particular camp, which didn’t present any immediate danger, will be part of a new approach the city is testing out.

“We were finding ourselves going to the same places over and over again and seeing the same people over and over again,” said Terry Preuninger, a spokesman for the Spokane Police Department, “with private property, we can remove someone immediately, but then when we leave they come back.”

He says it was taking too much officer time.

“The neighborhood resource officers were spending a lot of their time handling transient and homeless problems and weren’t able to do their other duties,” he said.

Now the city is testing out assigning two designated neighborhood resource officers to a new team, along with parks staff, code enforcement and also trained outreach folks.

“We won’t just be removing the camp,” said Preuninger, “but seeing if they need help.”

He says the team won’t go in until patrol units have determined that the camp presents no immediate risk or that there are no active crimes.

“We are going to find out if its a better way to solve the problem,” he said.

Today Wendy and the others at the camp were asked to clear out but mentions that they had done their best to not dirty up the area, and had tried to stay quiet.

“It would be nice if the city says there is an area, that we could be in, in area where they wouldn’t bother us,” she said.

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