SPOKANE, Wash - A husband and wife and their adult son have filed a complaint in federal court over their treatment in a temporary camp outside Spokane City Hall.
David Ham, Michael Ham and Cynthia Ham-Sanchez lived at what was dubbed "Camp Hope" from November 24 until December 9, 2018. According to the complaint, the city cleared the tents and threw all the possessions left behind into a garbage truck.
"The City made no attempt to retain items of value, to store the property, or in any way preserve the property," the complaint said. "The residents of Camp Hope, who attempted to retrieve their belongings after the City had begun to clear the encampment, were threatened with arrest."
The suit claims the seizure and destruction was an illegal taking of private property."
It also alleges the city failed to provide essential emergency housing services when it stopped funding 24/7 shelter space at the House of Charity last September. It claims the warming shelters the city opened were not homeless shelters and did not provide adequate shelter because they only operated in the evening and overnight hours.
The suit also says the city harassed people who tried to camp elsewhere within the city limits.
Because of that, this family says they were forced to sleep outdoors and joined what came to be known as "Camp Hope" outside City Hall.
All of their belongings were located in the tents at Camp Hope.
According to the suit, the city posted a notice on November 24th for people to remove their tents and property. The suit says the notice stated that items of "obvious value" would be stored. Items were scheduled to be removed December 8th.
On December 6th, Ham and his wife were hospitalized with health issues. "The posting of these notices that the City intended to clear away Camp Hope were a proximate cause of these health concerns."
The couple put their adult son in charge of their belongings. He went to breakfast on December 9th and when he returned 90 minutes later, everything was gone.
The suit says everything the city collected was destroyed and that "The City does not have any policy, procedure, or resources devoted to the storage of any property were seized from homeless encampments."
The suit says the city's actions "pose a health risk to the homeless populations of Spokane as the constant need to avoid citations or court referrals under these ordinances prevent individuals from sleeping." It goes on to say that sleep is a physical necessity for people to function properly.
It also says homeless individuals cannot afford to pay the fines associated with the ordinances and that they could end up in jail. That, according to the suit, can cause them to have problems obtaining public housing, further exacerbating the problem.
The suit says the City of Spokane violated the family's Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
It states "Poverty, skyrocketing area rents, health issues and the City's failure to provide adequate public safety and shelter space forced the Plaintiffs and other individuals to sleep in public places in Spokane."
The family made a claim for damages with the city in February, but the claims were denied.
The family is being represented by the Northwest Justice Project.
The city has been sent a summons, but has not yet responded.
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