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What Are Sweeps?

One of the most stressful things in a person's life is moving. And moving day comes at any time for the unsheltered in Spokane. It's coming for sure, because you can't legally exist without a lease or a deed, or a shelter bed for the night. There are limited places during the day where you can safely rest or relax. COVID restrictions eliminated most of those spaces. Sweeps are like evictions, but your stuff is already outside, on the curb.

When sweeps of homeless camps occur, police inform those sheltering in that spot that they must move along and that anything they don't pack with them will be tossed. Sometimes they are given ten minutes, sometimes they can take their time. Sometimes it's just a warning without certainty about what time and date they must actually be gone.

The police might state there were available shelter beds the night before, but during the day when the sweep occurs, shelters are not open to new clients. The earliest shelter opens at 3pm, others open at 7pm. There is no way to know current availability. Some people living outdoors have been banned from the shelters. There are many barriers that prevent others from going to shelters, such as separation from loved ones.

At some point, a Code Enforcement crew arrives, also unannounced, with a dump truck or two. Sometimes police accompany the crew, at times half a dozen or more officers. Anything unattended or considered soiled (wet or dirty) or trash is tossed into a dump truck. If needles or any sign of human waste are present, everything can be disposed of as a public health hazard. This includes capped needles and closed containers for urine. Keep in mind, the city does not provide public toilets.

Talk to anyone on the street and you will hear stories of their gear and belongings having been confiscated, sometimes over forceful objection. Sometimes resulting in arrest. The accounts are many and varied, and include those of people being present when their belongings are confiscated.

Under a recent pilot program, Code Enforcement now stores some confiscated personal property. To our knowledge, as of the date of this post, no one has yet actually retrieved their belongings from Code Enforcement.

When you are evicted from a place where you have a lease or a deed, you are given a printed notice with a date and time certain of your eviction, and a process by which you can challenge that. If you're living outdoors unsheltered, such notice barely exists. Thus, due process, the right to challenge what the government is doing to you, barely exists as well.

In the downtown precinct, the notice provisions are explained away by the police who claim they are enforcing laws other than the anti-camping ordinance. However, when citing other violations such as sit/lie, they are doing the same upending of people who are sheltering in place. In addition, anytime someone is present at their camp, the City policy doesn't even call for posted notice to be provided at all.

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