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Fear tactics may exacerbate issues, care tactics can bring shalom

What started as a protest to challenge the lack of shelter beds and need for appropriate housing for homeless people was broken up in front of City Hall. Camp Hope moved in late 2018 to vacant lots owned by the Department of Transportation at Second and Ray.

The camp includes tents and RVs, now enclosed in a fence, that give homeless people personal space for themselves and their belongings. Many prefer the dignity and the community they have experienced there while they work to find housing suitable for their needs rather than having to share space with three or more strangers, as they have experienced in shelters.

"In a shelter, we are out of sight, out of mind," a resident said.

Whatever the timeline, Camp Hope is working to close. Must it be with shouting and accusations? Can the players demanding a "sweep" to close it in a few weeks, sit and talk with the Camp Hope residents, providers, the state and other entities working to find long-term solutions rather than a swift political action.

Nuisance! Crime! Drugs! Mental Illness! Homeless people! NIMBY! We hear some cry.

Shalom! Solutions! Identity cards! Good Neighbor Agreements! Appropriate Housing! Others cry.

In late October, County Commissioners established a state of emergency, giving the county sheriff permission to break the camp down by mid-November. The state Department of Transportation wants flexible time to find appropriate housing solutions for residents.

At the Oct. 6 Homeless Coalition meeting at Camp Hope, providers and residents spoke about what Camp Hope means to them.

Maurice Smith, a Camp Hope manager and coalition member, has shared stories of homeless people in documentary films. The coalition meeting was filmed. It's an opportunity to hear voices and stories of Camp Hope residents and providers.  

Camp Hope residents said they value it as a community of love, trust, empathy, compassion, civility and hope. One said, "I want people to know there are amazing people here." Another said, "Our needs are heard here." Yet another said, "We are getting the support we need to move forward with our lives."

Maurice tells of solutions underway and the need to recognize that sweeping the camp will undermine long-term solutions:

• Recent Wednesdays, representatives of state departments of health and licensing came from Olympia and helped residents restore their IDs with birth certificates, Social Security cards and state IDs. They came to one location, rather than requiring people go to three locations. The pilot program brought the services to homeless people where they live and 150 signed up.

• Recently, 102 Camp Hope residents moved into meaningful housing—drug treatment, transitional and permanent housing, and back with families—and 40 went to the Trent shelter.

• In October, Camp Hope set up Good Neighbor Agreements and badges for those wishing to stay at the camp to work on issues and find housing. They agreed to be accountable for their behavior.

"Camp Hope is being used as a model for five other homeless camps in the state, pioneering solutions that don't involve forcing people into shelters that may be inappropriate to their needs," Maurice said.

"This is how we build the shalom—the well-being—of our homeless friends, by working outside the box to solve real problems that are keeping them stuck and meaningfully address homelessness by offering practical solutions," he commented.

What could happen if the city, county, businesses, state, coalition, residents and providers sit together to hear each other's voices and respect each other's needs? Might it be comprehensive solutions rather than moving people away from help that is in progress?

George Critchlow, retired faculty of Gonzaga's Law School, urged on the ShelterSpokane2022 listserv that the players collaborate to fund a permanent program to provide this kind of assistance in a neutral space where people would not feel further marginalized or judged.

We echo his words of calling the players to come together for the common good, without the "biases, preconceptions, media spin, and real or imagined fears that drive us apart." Support for people obtaining IDs is a first step to their being able to access housing, services and opportunities.

Spokane already has a myriad of agencies dealing with the interrelated issues of homelessness, transitional housing, residential drug treatment, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, low-barrier housing, affordable housing and more. The Fig Tree's Resource Directory lists many homelessness and housing resources that help people find hope.

If Spokane rushes to close Camp Hope and impedes efforts to find appropriate housing solutions for residents, it merely pushes the question to the future of how to support unhoused people, especially as inflation leads more people to instability and losing housing.

Where is loving our neighbors? Where is welcoming? Where are creative solutions forged in dialogue with people living in community at Camp Hope, their immediate neighbors, the diverse businesses, the faith community, the nonprofits, and the city, county and state?

It is a complex issue that requires more than a quick fix for the moment.

Our hope is that we all can live in shalom, under our own vine and fig tree in peace and unafraid.

Mary Stamp, Editor

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November 2022