SPOKANE — After claims of rampant criminal activity and a recent drive-by shooting, security personnel at the East Central homeless camp known as Camp Hope are trying to tighten safety measures and prevent public drug use.
Robert Moody, who is head of the camp’s informal security team and a former camp resident, said there are frequent fights, thefts and drug use in the camp, but that his team works diligently to prevent criminal activity.
“A lot of people call us ‘Camp Dope,’” Moody, 36, said on Thursday in front of a crowd of people at the Spokane Homeless Coalition’s October meeting at the encampment. “The funny thing is, I walk around on a daily basis and I probably snatch up 50-60 foils (used for smoking heroin) out of people’s hands because they’re outside doing it, and we don’t tolerate that.”
About 100 people, including public officials, concerned citizens, reporters and volunteers, listened to a panel of staff and service providers discuss the camp’s future on Thursday morning, a little more than 24 hours after a drive-by shooting took place.
“Everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Moody said of the shooting. “I have 600 or so campers in here, my goal is to make sure every one of them is safe.”
No one was hurt in the 3 a.m. Wednesday shooting, and Spokane police arrested James Rackliff, 24, about an hour later. Police said the man was looking for a woman he suspected of stealing from him.
Maurice Smith, a camp manager who documents the activity at the camp, said the fence the Washington Department of Transportation erected around the camp played a big role in protecting its residents. On Thursday morning, a screen had been placed over the chainlink fence to add some privacy.
Camp security also implemented a curfew as of this week, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Starting as early as this weekend, the camp will begin to issue ID badges to help identify residents and tally the camp’s population, which has been estimated between about 150 and 600 residents.
The Department of Transportation also plans to hire a security company that will be on site by Oct. 15.
“Once we do that, nobody else comes in. We’re capping it,” Smith said.
The camp has faced increasing scrutiny from public officials in Spokane, including claims by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich that the camp has been a hotbed for crime in the neighborhood. He intends to remove the camp by mid-November.
Knezovich has claimed there are rapes and brandings in the camp. Neither claim has been substantiated.
However, drug use is high within the camp and poses one of the biggest problems, Moody said.
“If you’re doing them, do them inside your tent,” he said. “We don’t want to know about it.”
Moody said his team wants to work with any of the community members or businesses who report stolen property by camp residents.
Fights are also a common occurrence.
“We get quite a few fights in the camp, but a lot of them are more yelling matches,” he said. “At that point, we become mediators.”
While Smith recognizes there is criminal activity in the camp, he also said the residents are frequently victims of criminal activity from outside of the camp. People have dumped garbage at the camp, and in at least one incident someone lit a dumpster on fire, he said.
Moody said his team would like to have more direct correspondence with law enforcement, but that the relationship between camp residents and police has not been good. The camp started as a protest last winter against the city of Spokane’s homelessness response.
Smith said Spokane police have been “reluctant to engage” with the camp.
“They don’t really like dealing with us,” Moody said. “They pretty much said that anything that goes on in there is not their problem.”
“They laugh at us,” said Heather Morse, another member of the security team who was a witness to the Wednesday drive-by shooting. “When I told them I’m supervisor for security here, they laughed at that. They think it’s funny.”
For the Spokane Police Department, the camp represents a security concern due to the hostility officers face when they enter, department spokesman Cpl. Nick Briggs said.
Incidents at Camp Hope can require as many as six officers to respond, which can take a while for the department to dispatch, Briggs said.
“There are certain sections of the camp people don’t want to go to because they don’t feel safe and I can’t really do anything about,” Moody said. “I wish the cops would be more apt to come out here and do something. Help us help you guys help the community by eliminating the people that need to be eliminated.”
Julie Garcia, a camp manager and director of Jewels Helping Hands, said she was grateful for the large gathering of people who came to Thursday’s coalition meeting.
When asked what’s needed at the camp, she said, “This is what’s needed in this community,” as she pointed to the crowd.
Many of the people living in the camp have “burned bridges” in the community and the large community response will help rebuild them, she said.