Spokane City Council approves updated illegal camping ordinance

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane City Council approved an update to the city’s unauthorized camping ordinance in Monday night’s meeting. It passed with a 7-0 vote.

The ordinance prohibits people from camping:

  • 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;
  • 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 along the banks of the Spokane River and Latah Creek, unless there is no available shelter space.

The updated ordinance is different from the sit-and-lie ordinance, which prohibits people from sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between 6 a.m. and midnight.

“If there’s things that we can do to keep people safe, I’m going to support it,” Councilmember Michael Cathcart said.

The decision comes after the Trent Avenue shelter recently opened, along with the city giving WSDOT a deadline to clear out Camp Hope.

“I don’t believe people at Camp Hope are bad people. The one things that resonates with me is I represent Northwest Spokane, I get calls weekly from West Central Spokane, Summit, those that live in the mobile home park…they live in fear in the summers from people who live by the river’s edge,” Councilmember Karen Stratton said.

The ordinance aligns with the Martin v. City of Boise ruling, which maintains that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have shelter beds for their homeless population.

During public comment, opinions were mixed. While some said the ordinance criminalizes the homeless, others encouraged it, saying that some sidewalks throughout Spokane are impassable.

The council also approved an ordinance requiring the city to open warming centers when temperatures drop below 35°, cooling centers when temperatures are 95° or higher, and safe air centers when the air quality index is unhealthy.