Mayor proposes camping compromise, local businesses expect little change

SPOKANE, Wash. — Mayor Nadine Woodward proposed revisions to ordinances protecting public land, property and sidewalks, saying she’s striking a compromise between different versions proposed by the Spokane City Council.

Woodward’s proposed changes would establish time and place restrictions in the downtown area, around railroad viaducts, near congregate shelters, and along river banks.

However, some local businesses aren’t convinced they will see a change. They see it as just moving the problem elsewhere.

“It’s just going to push it on to someone else. It’s just passing the buck to someone else, and I don’t know,” Curtis McSpadden, co-owner of Curt’s City Center Oil and Lube, said.

Businesses in the University District are struggling with homeless camps nearby. They want to see the problem addressed, but not if that means just clearing out the camps.

“It’d be nice to see something done,” said Shane Bingham, President of Spokane Movers Inc. “We’ve had people camped out behind our shop [and] start a fire right next to our building.”

He works with the doors locked at his local business because he doesn’t feel safe, and feels this solution also doesn’t answer all of his questions.

“I just kind of wonder where they’re going to go then from here,” he said.

The land some campers are using isn’t owned by the city, but instead by Washington State University. So even with an update like this, the Mayor can’t move specific camps, like the one at the U-District. However, she says her goal is to push people in the right direction to get the help they need.

“The additions we are proposing account for the health, safety, and welfare of everyone who uses our sidewalks and other public spaces,” Woodward said. “We know that people are nearly unanimous in their desire for something to be done about public camping. These changes would bring the City within the expectations of the court, encourage services as a first option, and allow for enforcement if necessary.”

Woodward’s proposed ordinances are based on separate proposals made by councilmembers and community feedback to the current ordinances and recent proposals. Councilmembers Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle, who developed an earlier proposal, have worked with Woodward to strike a balance between the other proposals, community expectations, and court requirements.

Changes to the camping ordinance would prohibit camping at all times:

  • In and within 100 feet of downtown railroad viaducts
  • In all City parks and on all City-owned park property
  • Within 35 feet of the Spokane River and Latah Creek
  • Within the downtown police precinct and Business Improvement District boundaries
  • Within a half-mile of City-supported congregate shelter

The camping ordinance defines congregate shelter as any private or public facility that provides short-term or contingency communal living, including homeless shelters. It also removes the blanket enforcement exception when shelter space is unavailable to be clearer about time and place restrictions.

Sit-and-lie ordinance revisions remove some exemptions, including for homelessness. The ordinance would continue the sitting and lying prohibition in defined spaces between 6 a.m. and midnight.

“The courts permit cities to enforce violations of an ordinance that establishes time and place restrictions as long as such prohibitions are not on all public properties when shelter is unavailable,” Cathcart said. “We have received a great deal of feedback from the community that makes it clear they expect the City to work within the boundaries established by the courts to solve that balance between services and enforcement.”

The emphasis in both proposed ordinances is to consider all users of the space regardless of housed status.

“Our goal is to protect the rights of others to use the areas for the purposes for which they were intended while preventing harm and promoting the health, safety, and general welfare of individuals, property, and the environment,” Bingle said.

None of this ordinance is possible without council approval. The mayor says she’ll share this vision with them on Monday and a vote is expected later this month.

READ: Spokane City Council to discuss ordinance giving them final say on major facilities