Washington’s Largest Homeless Camp Isn’t Where You Think
In the last decade or more, Seattle's reputation has diminished a bit because of homeless camps called "Tent Cities." The Tent Cities may move, but they never go away.
Maybe you've spoken to a relative from a surrounding suburb who has warned you about visiting the Emerald City as a result of the homeless being "everywhere." And while it is a very real problem, it has also been sensationalized by some in Seattle media. And of course, it has been politicized.
Spokane residents have been on the receiving end of those warnings, which make Seattle sound like the wild west, or some dystopian future world, with Mad Max villains ruling the streets, always looking for a fight. People who actually live and work in Seattle, not one of the suburbs, may have a different story to tell you.
Where is the Largest Homeless Camp in Washington State?
The irony is that lovely little Spokane, tucked away in Eastern Washington, far from "big city problems," now has the largest homeless camp in Washington State.
"We make it easy to be homeless," Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward has been quoted as saying, referring to a lack of enforceable restrictions to loitering, camping, etc. in city streets and community property. She said the goal was not to push homeless people around, but to push them "into assistance." Instead, a majority of Spokane's homeless have migrated to a plot of land in a field off of I-90 at Freya.
"Camp Hope," as it is called, has the population of a small town. Over 600 homeless people live at the camp. It's a maze of tents, RVs, and anything else that might provide shade from the sun, and shelter for the night.
Homeless Deaths in Spokane
The scorching heatwave was a major concern this summer, but I've seen only a single homeless person's death attributed to the triple-digit weather. Last year, in total, for all seasons, there were 162 homeless deaths in Spokane. That's the official count. It is likely higher than that.
Politics and Finger Pointing
A charity that assists homeless people, Jewels Helping Hands, offers basic necessities to those living in Camp Hope. But the organization has made headlines for it's clashes with the city, which some see as political.
There was even an ethics scandal resulting in a City Council member resigning from the city's Continuum of Care board, which helps develop policies to help the homeless.
Whose Responsibility is Camp Hope?
Camp Hope has become a nuisance for the City of Spokane, whose latest strategy to eliminate the town-like community is to pass the buck to the Washington State Department of Transportation; threatening legal action. You see, Camp Hope sits on land owned by WSDOT. Who knew?
The View from Inside the Homeless Camp "Hope"
It's been reported that when night falls, and the Police no longer patrol the area, Camp Hope becomes a dangerous place of drugs, violence and sex crimes. So why wouldn't the people living there move to Spokane's new homeless shelter? The new shelter is regulated and offers the assistance Mayor Woodward referred to.
First of all, its taken some time to get a new shelter. Although everyone agrees that "something needs to be done about Spokane's homeless," no one wants it done in their neighborhood.
Are Tiny Homes on the Way for Spokane's Homeless?
Another reason to stay at Camp Hope is the alleged promise from Jewels Helping Hands of a "tiny home," but to qualify you supposedly must remain in the make-shift village. If you leave, you lose your place in line for a tiny home.
Back in April of 2022 Jewels Helping Hands asked the city for $1 million to buy 120+ tiny homes, called pallet shelters. The city has not signed off on the idea.
So if I may reference Mad Max one last time, down on their luck people are willing to take their chances in the deadly "Thunder Dome" - risking injury, human branding, and rape - if there's a chance of a brighter future on the horizon. Such is the desperation of Spokane's homeless population, in Washington's largest homeless community, "Camp Hope.