SPOKANE — For 18 months, Camp Hope has been a defining political issue in Spokane. At its peak, the encampment along Interstate 90 in the East Central neighborhood was the makeshift home for more than 600 people housed in tents, cars and campers, making it the largest homeless gathering in Washington.
By the end of June the camp — which now numbers 20 people — will be closed.
The city of Spokane and the state of Washington announced Tuesday a deal had been struck that resolves lawsuits and provides a planned end date for the encampment.
“Discussions have been thoughtful and candid around the shared goal of closing Camp Hope,” the parties stated in the joint release. “Both parties have agreed on a final date — on or before Friday, June 30 — in which all individuals residing at the site will vacate.”
More than 600 people stayed at Camp Hope last summer. By next week, the population is expected to decline to fewer than 10, said Jeffry Finer, an attorney representing Jewels Helping Hands, which manages the camp.
Mayor Nadine Woodward said that the city had worked tirelessly for months to accomplish this closure, including with the opening of the city’s largest homeless shelter on Trent Avenue. She said she would have preferred Camp Hope to have closed sooner.
“But it’s better than the initial proposed closure at the end of this year,” she said. “I always say you get more through compromise than you do drawing a line in the sand.”
Woodward added that Camp Hope has been a “disaster” to those living there and the surrounding community, placing the blame for creating the camp squarely at the feet of Julie Garcia, founder of Jewels Helping Hands, which helped lead protests in 2021 that led to the creation of the encampment. Woodward added that she believes Garcia intentionally kept the camp open so she could continue receiving state funds for its management.
“Julie will see the end of her contract, which is $1.6 million, paid fully to her, by the end of June,” Woodward said. “She had no desire to close the encampment any time sooner than that.”
Finer wrote that the $1.6 million contract covered all services provided by Jewels Helping Hands and its staff, and that Garcia received a $40,000 salary.
Garcia preemptively responded Tuesday with a press release of her own, arguing that it was Woodward who created Camp Hope and caused it to swell to such a large size, both by the mayor’s slow action on creating a new shelter for the homeless whether they were sober or not, and by dispersing the December 2021 protest through threat of legal enforcement.
With nowhere else to go, the homeless protesters moved to the vacant lot where Camp Hope is now located, Garcia said.
Garcia wrote that the camp would have closed much sooner if the homeless people staying there had received resources and support from the city and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Instead, Garcia said, the mayor and former Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich chose to turn the homeless living at the site into a political football.
“The impact on the East Central Neighborhood and upon every one of the guests at Camp Hope was avoidable,” Garcia wrote. “Nothing came from the City or County but threats and stonewalling. The City police stopped taking our calls for help inside the Camp. The County ran illegal helicopter overflights.”
Garcia also criticized the city’s Trent Avenue homeless shelter as insufficient.
“The City’s poured money into a hastily converted privately owned warehouse with no indoor water and conditions barely fit for a temporary emergency shelter,” she wrote.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the number of people staying at the Trent Avenue shelter, which has for months stayed steady at around 300 people, is evidence that the shelter was better than sleeping outside or in a tent at Camp Hope.
Garcia credited progress in housing many of Camp Hope’s residents to support from local service providers and the state, naming former City Council President Ben Stuckart and Lisa Brown, the former director of the state Department of Commerce and current mayoral candidate running against Woodward.
“This would have been done faster had we not been harassed by the city police and the county sheriff,” Stuckart said in an interview. “They delayed the closing of the camps with their actions.”
“If anybody’s going to try to claim credit for this, it should be Commerce and Lisa Brown, not the city or the county,” added Stuckart, who is a political ally of Brown and supporter of her candidacy for mayor.
Brown did not directly take credit for the closure of Camp Hope, but leveled criticism at the Woodward administration for its creation.
“Camp Hope never should have gotten to hundreds of people,” Brown said. “Had there been a preexisting plan or collaboration between local governments and providers on a regional level, that could have been prevented.”
The administration should have been focused on “coordination, not litigation,” Brown added. She also called Woodward’s claims that the duration of the camp was motivated by financial graft “outrageous.”
“That’s really a slap in the face of people who have been working so hard, the volunteers and housing providers, to actually find solutions for people,” Brown said. “That’s an outrageous accusation.”
Woodward added that she was not worried about another Camp Hope forming in coming years, so long as Garcia does not create one.