Spokane City Council proposes two different ordinances to address homelessness

SPOKANE, Wash.— Spokane City Council members are proposing two different ordinances to clear campers from the streets.

As a result of Martin v. Boise, Spokane has not been able to enforce laws relating to illegal camping and other sit/lie activities.

Spokane City Councilmembers Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart proposed an ordinance to address this.

“This proposal has been modified, edited, and collaborated on with City Legal, for the past several months,” Cathcart said.

The proposal resumes enforcement in downtown Spokane within buffered areas of the Spokane River. Enforcement is also allowed along City property and within one half mile of all shelters.

The proposal also allows for enforcement “within clearly identified business districts that consider the time of day and provides law enforcement with the tools to enforce when life, health and safety are at risk.”

“If approved by a majority of the City Council, this proposed ordinance creates the power to once again de-incentivize activities that endanger our vulnerable,
unhoused populations,” Cathcart says. “It will also ensure safe passage for individuals of all abilities on our public sidewalks, paths, trails, and roadways. These measures will enact much needed safeguards in the face of a converging public health and public safety crisis in our community while increasing the quality of life for all.”

“The community has been demanding this for years,” Bingle said. “It’s time we pass an ordinance that allows for strong and reasonable action that addresses the challenges presented in Martin v Boise.”

Spokane City Council President Breenan Beggs and Councilmember Lori Kinnear have presented a discussion draft on a different ordinance for the city’s need for shelter space, as part of the Spokane Municipal Code of illegal camping in public areas.

“Since Martin v. City of Boise, which was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2019 that has prohibited enforcement of the camping prohibition on City-owned property subject to the availability of shelter beds, the City of Spokane has not updated its illegal camping ordinance,” Beggs said. “This updated draft language is meant to be a starting point for discussions among Council Members and is being released publicly to get community feedback on the best way to move forward to bring City code into better alignment with the Martin v. City of Boise ruling.”

The draft goes over three levels of enforcement.

First, camping would be prohibited on all City-owned properties. This is subject to the availability of shelter beds required by Martin v. City of Boise.

Secondly, camping is prohibited at all times under any Downtown railroad viaduct and within 100 feet of one, any park or park facility owned by Spokane and anywhere within 35 feet of the Spokane River of Latah Creek.

Finally, camping is prohibited in areas of danger for the community, such as a right of way where there are a lot of people or where activity poses health or safety risks for people.

“Our ultimate goal in this draft ordinance is to not move the problem of illegal camping from place to place, but to actually get people referred to a safer location, which could include a designated area for campers who do not utilize shelters for a variety of reasons, or when sufficient shelter space is not available,” Kinnear said. “I look forward to hearing community feedback on this draft so we can work to improve our attempt to identify community priorities for illegal camping enforcement.”

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