‘The letter is disappointing’: Health agency reacts to sheriff’s vow to clear Camp Hope

SPOKANE, Wash. — The sheriff vowed to clear Camp Hope. Now, public health agencies are worried the plan will only create more trauma for the community.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich sent a letter to Washington’s Secretary of Transportation on Thursday. In it, he said he would start clearing the camp in mid-October because of the department’s inaction. It’s a move some involved in Camp Hope solutions aren’t convinced will work.

Simply put, there’s no easy way to move 600 people off a plot of land, and numerous local and state agencies are already working on it including the Department of Commerce, City of Spokane, Washington State Patrol and the Department of Transportation.

“The immediate next step is to get together again next week and continue the conversation,” said Brian Coddington. He’s the director of communications for the city of Spokane.

Now, a new voice is joining the conversation. In the new letter, Sheriff Knezovich called out the Department of Transportation and Washington state for inaction and allowing this camp to grow for nine months. He says the community can no longer stand by and allow the conditions to continue.

Knezovich says, he’ll start clearing it by the middle of next month if nothing is done before then.

“The letter from the sheriff is disappointing,” said Zeke Smith. He’s the president of Empire Health Foundation.

His team is now connecting with the people living there to see what they need. He says that work takes time, and the sheriff’s deadline creates trauma.

“All it does is increase people’s anxieties,” he added. “I  think it actually is a safety challenge when he says something like that.”

Empire says they want to see a fence surrounding Camp Hope, ID’s for those living there and a possible curfew to add security.

“None of us believe that it’s a permanent housing solution for anybody, including the residents that are there,” Zeke said.

In response to the sheriff’s letter, the Department of Transportation says his proposal “doesn’t capture the spirit” of the goals for the camp.

Those already involved say the sheriff is more than welcome to offer ideas and meaningful solutions.

“If the sheriff wants to be a part of collaborating to how we can actually address Camp Hope and make sure those folks can get into better housing, there’s a seat at the table for him at any moment,” Zeke concluded.

The sheriff will hold a press conference about his new plan and proposal on Friday.

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