‘Not wanting to make the change’: SPD clearing downtown homeless camps, but is it making a difference?

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Police are now clearing the streets downtown, but making meaningful change in addressing homelessness is still a challenge.

SPD can now enforce sit-and-lie rules and have even more power to clear camps. On Monday, the City Council voted to give police the authority to stop camping regardless of shelter space if they think it’s dangerous for the person or public.

For Officer Greg Thompson, “sit and lie is more or less just a tool.”

It’s a tool he’s using to help people living on the streets find something safer.

When 4 News Now went on patrol with SPD on Tuesday morning, we started off in the back alley right next to Hope House. The shelter was feet away from where tents were propped up. Some women told police they have a shelter bed but prefer staying out here instead.

With everyone they connected with, officers offered to give people a ride to the new Trent Shelter. One gentleman declined the offer and ended up getting arrested. Police say he had numerous other outstanding warrants.

On their daily patrols, officers say people usually pack up and move along most of the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re moving out of homelessness.

“It seems like they’re not wanting to make the change,” Thompson said.

Another big issue for officers is meeting the same people downtown. They just move to a different spot, and very few accept the offer to go to a shelter.

“A lot of them are drug addicted,” Thompson pointed out.

Needles line the ground, and police say drug use is rampant. Officers are also using these patrols as a welfare check. Downtown police recently found a man “in the alley, covered in a blanket, covered in flies.” Police say that man was on the brink of death before they found him.

So far, Officer Thompson hasn’t issued a single citation. He thinks the new enforcement is helping clear the downtown core but is worried about where it’s going.

“We’re seeing those people that were in the downtown core where it’s enforceable for sit and lie, we’re seeing them move outside of that,” he added.

He knows this patrol won’t fix homelessness on its own. Police can’t force people into drug treatment or into a shelter, but officers are still making rounds, meeting people who Thompson says he wants to help find a better life so they aren’t sleeping on the streets.

READ: Spokane City Council approves updated illegal camping ordinance