Reasons for the STOP THE SWEEPS Petition

 

Land Acknowledgement (updated 4/22/21)

This statement is pending approval by the Spokane Tribe. In brief, it acknowledges that our municipalities are built over unceded land of the indigenous people of this area, and that a disproportionate number of indigenous people in our community experience homelessness today.

 

 

(1) There are not enough low-barrier shelter beds in the City of Spokane for the number of people experiencing homelessness living within the City; and

 

(2) There is no official City definition for low-barrier shelter; and the City counts all available shelter beds despite the fact that certain people may be turned away or rapidly forced to leave these facilities due to gender, state of sobriety, alter-ability, fees, age, family makeup, having no ID, religious preference, etc.; and

 

(3) There are barriers which keep people from using the shelter system (even at “low-barrier” shelters) including but not limited to an insufficient number of beds, inadequate information (availability, intake process, etc.), banishment, distance, lack of transportation, dehumanizing treatment, inadequate storage for personal belongings and/or outdoor gear, unforgiving stance for struggles with addiction, discrimination from staff and other guests, lack of accessibility for physical/mental disabilities, behavioral triggers in a shelter environment (e.g. social anxiety, PTSD, anger management), health concerns (e.g. bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, mental), safety concerns, separation of couples and chosen families, etc.; and 

 

(4) Spokane does not publish any real-time information on shelter availability; and

 

(5) Spokane has no area to legally shelter, camp, or otherwise live outdoors; it is a crime to sit or lie on the sidewalk in the downtown core; vehicles, cars, campers, trailers, RVs and similar when used for habitation or sleeping are illegal; and

 

(6) The Lavan v. City of Los Angeles decision concludes that “the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protect homeless persons from government seizure and summary destruction of their unabandoned, but momentarily unattended, personal property” such as for eating, showering, and using restrooms; and

 

(7) The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Martin v. City of Boise decision declared that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise that they had a choice in the matter”; and

 

(8) Spokane’s laws, policies and procedures target the behaviors and effectively criminalize the condition of homelessness, and the unavoidable human biological functions of toileting, sitting/resting, sleeping, and sheltering; and

 

(9) Overlapping and redundant laws, policies, and procedures targeting those experiencing homelessness casts a net so wide it that all who are unsheltered are ensnared; and often are enforced without due process and in violation of property rights (e.g. 48-hour notices, allowing adequate time to pack, misidentifying property as abandoned, etc.); and

 

(10) Those same laws, policies and procedures are unclear and not consistently adhered to by police, other city staff, and/or partnering agencies, resulting in confiscation and destruction of personal property, including life-saving gear, which jeopardizes the life and well-being of people who never intended to abandon their gear and belongings; and obstructs due process which assists in recovery of belongings and protects individual rights; while wasting the efforts and resources of concerned citizens and organizations who donate these materials in order to save lives; and

 

(11) Violators of these laws are directed to Community Court so they can engage with all of the support and services which they need. However, Community Court is a criminal court where failure to appear and/or to complete the agreed upon tasks and requisite community service can result in criminal citations, bench warrants, jail time and fines which can affect an individual’s future ability to obtain housing or employment; and the Community Court resources which are touted as the primary purpose and justification for the program are inconsistently available; and

 

(12) The impact of the government’s “war on the poor” as described above creates an environment of constant fear and alienation, which damages the spirit, health, and general well-being of individuals who are targeted, as well as the collective spirit and psyche of our entire community; and violates the basic Constitutional right to be left alone by the government and autonomously pursue life, liberty and happiness; and 

 

(13) Housing First was adopted by HUD in 2004 and became a policy priority in 2016, recommending that permanent housing be provided without preconditions and barriers to entry, e.g. sobriety, treatment, or service participation requirements; and as a best practices model saves an average $8,000 per year per person housed, and generates measurably better outcomes; and

 

(14) Criminalization and sweeps don’t solve the conditions of homelessness, but do grievous harm to those targeted by them, making it even more difficult to access resources and ultimately obtain housing; and

 

(15) Rather than solving the public health issue of human waste by providing latrines, the City criminalizes the performance of these unavoidable biological functions, and employs city workers to collect this hazardous waste and expedites the removal of the performers’ personal property without proper notice or due process; and

 

(16) Rather than providing trash receptacles and collection service for people to dispose of trash themselves, the City employs multiple full time code enforcement personnel and at least two dump trucks dedicated to picking up the trash from camps and hauling it away five days week; additionally, the City provides ten (10) downtown neighborhood resource officers plus supervising officers and staff who provide protection during each of these enforcement actions (unnecessary for other groups or individuals providing a service to people on the street); garbage at camps can be deemed a public health emergency and any and all gear can be immediately removed and discarded without due process or notice; and

 

(17) The CDC recommends and common decency demands that cities provide latrines and hand washing stations (portable or otherwise) to homeless individuals sheltering outdoors, and recommends allowing such individuals to shelter in place, in order to prevent the viral spread of COVID-19; and

 

(18) Businesses within the City (especially downtown) have complained about people sheltering on nearby public property for human waste, litter, and scaring away customers for years, resulting in the creation of numerous laws and campaigns with countless dollars spent on criminalization, prevention and enforcement, which have fallen short of desired outcomes; and

 

(19) There are no free or affordable large storage lockers or units for people experiencing homelessness to store their personal belongings or gear during the day, which promotes keeping campsites in place and creates barriers to leaving the camp sites in search of food, work, other shelter arrangements, health care, etc.; and

 

(20) Within the City, there are no day centers for men and inadequate day centers for the rest of the homeless population at large, and there are no places for people experiencing homelessness to legally exist during daytime hours; and

 

(21) There are established examples elsewhere in WA of self-governed, long-standing homeless camps (Nickelsville) and tiny home communities (Quixote Village) with integrated services which have led residents to long-term housing that could serve as models for Spokane; and

 

(22) In 2021 the city added three new code enforcement positions at a cost of $190,000 to address illegal camping instead of funneling those funds toward direct services that alleviate the homeless condition; and 

 

(23) In Blake v. The City of Grants Pass the U.S. District Court of Oregon referenced an administrative study that “found that the true size of a homeless population may be anywhere between 2.5 to 10 times larger than what can be estimated by a PIT count”; and the Washington State Department of Commerce produces the “Supplemental PIT count” for Spokane County which estimated 5,483 people experiencing homelessness in January 2020, more than 3.5x the official HUD PIT count survey of 1,559 individuals in January 2020 for the Spokane region; and

 

(24) Many thousands of people who have never experienced homelessness are predicted to dramatically increase the number of unsheltered individuals in Spokane when COVID-19 eviction moratoriums are lifted.

 

 

-- END --