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An open letter to Spokane City and County Officials and Washington State Officials
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Open letter to Spokane city, county and state officials,


We understand that the city and state will meet again soon in court to determine a plan to clear Camp Hope. Having this discussion in court is an unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming route. Closing camp has always been the plan, as evidenced by the current camp residential count being under 50 persons, down from over 600 last summer.  We write to you today to ask you to let the process in place continue, allowing for the most robust method of ensuring Camp Hope residents move into housing and not temporary shelters or onto the streets once again.


We are individuals and organizations who know this camp firsthand from our on-site work and experiences.  We have met campers and know everything that happens in and around Camp Hope.  We are also individuals, organizations and service providers who support the efforts at Camp Hope, have visited regularly, and trust the process that is happening on-site. Some of us have volunteered, or donated much needed items, and believe that the best way to get campers into housing–and help them stay housed– is to provide the services that enable housing-readiness. .


Most importantly, we listen to the campers about what they need. Given the opportunity to participate in the process of their own next steps in life, ensure outcomes that lead to stable housing. For a variety of reasons, the residents remaining at Camp Hope haven’t been willing to utilize the shelter options, despite your efforts and ours, and they certainly aren’t going to go now with shelter numbers increasing daily. Sadly, we know all too well that if the Camp is forced into a premature closure, they won’t go to shelters, and the chances of ever getting these campers into housing is extremely low. They will be back on the streets, scattered around neighborhoods, and sleeping in parks.


All of us, including campers, agree that the camp will–and must–close, but ask that it not be done pre-maturely. We request the necessary time to get everyone into appropriate housing, with resources targeted to each individual's needs.  Campers are 100% participating in the process. To that end, the following opportunities have been created to support the ongoing efforts and serve as potential placements and resources for housing readiness:


⋅        The Catalyst Project – more bed space is available for Camp Hope residents with on-site, wrap-around services, and campers continue to be placed here when they are housing ready.  What a game changer for homeless services! A shining example of what we should do more of.


⋅        Detox: a detox facility will be opening this month to serve the camp. Drug treatment is a resource that most, even those who disagree with our methods of resources and housing first, will agree is needed. The folks remaining at the Camp will have access, without barriers, to substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health services. Addressing these underlying issues will make maintaining any housing obtained  possible, and not result in folks back on the streets in the same, familiar situation again next year.


⋅        Behavioral Health/SUD Treatment: All campers have been assessed by behavioral health workers and substance use disorder professionals, who they have built relationships with and trust. Two agencies on site have clinically-trained staff that are state-licensed behavioral health professionals.


⋅        Peer Support: Unlike the shelter system, campers have daily access to peer support services and a range of diverse resources to meet their basic needs. Every single camper has regular access to both mental and medical health care (unlike at TRAC, where insufficient staffing levels restrict the services offered for mental health; for example, the contract budgets for 175 persons to receive services, yet the daily resident count is typically over 300).


⋅        Employment: Over the last year, at least 100 residents  of the camp have been hired to work on-site, or with service providers assisting the unsheltered community; some have even earned enough funds to exit homelessness with little assistance. They simply needed an opportunity, and when it was given, they made the most of it. Employment options continue to be offered when possible.


⋅        Legal Support: Some campers have ongoing  legal issues, and the on-site teams are working with them to ensure participation and compliance through the help of an amazing legal-assistance-providing community partner. As the individuals get their legal issues in order, their housing-ready status improves and will lead to increased housing opportunities.


⋅        Peer Navigation: in addition to helping with housing readiness, trained peer navigators provide transportation to ensure campers make it to their appointments. Currently, transportation and daily guidance is not a resource available within the Spokane shelter system.


Safety and crime have been an ongoing topic of conversation regarding Camp Hope.  WSDOT-funded security provides on-site service providers a report daily. For weeks it’s been the same:  no disturbances, no holes cut in the fence, and not very loud. Everyone has made curfew and followed the rules. It’s a very structured environment. 


This is the calmest version of the encampment we have worked in so far. Police are relied on only in the case of criminal activity, which is always reported when there is evidence to support the likelihood of occurrence. Staff are trained in de-escalation techniques, and are able to handle most challenging situations with limited direct involvement from emergency workers, which allows for positive cooperation in those emergency cases that do require additional care.


Despite all of this, the most important statement of all has yet to be made:  the core topic of this letter is  not ‘Camp Hope’, but people’s lives .  The lives of those living at the Camp.  Any decisions that lead to a premature closing of the camp can mean the difference between dying next winter downtown, or a situation of ongoing supportive housing; likewise, any decisions that empower the important work described above to continue will mean less people added to our growing  population of un-supported individuals experiencing homelessness.


Campers are increasingly caught in the middle of the political and legal chaos created by the unnecessary and counterproductive dueling between elected officials (who are all privileged to be housed), who regularly talk about them instead of with them.  All they want, and all they need, is for us to finish what we started.  We are so close to the finish line, and to achieving our shared goal of closing the camp. No one is asking for the camp to exist forever.  Instead, all we are asking for is more time to complete this important work while awaiting additional housing options (for context, the City of Spokane’s own ROW-funded providers do not even have their housing options up-and-running –the contracts were just signed this week!)


Please put aside your political agendas and work in collaboration, and instead of forcing closure,  figure out a plan that allows the work at Camp Hope to be completed. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to truly move the needle when it comes to decreasing Spokane’s unsheltered population. But you can’t do it alone.  You need to listen to the campers and the service providers on-site to understand what options will be the most effective.  We assure you that a premature closing is not a part of the equation of success.


The lives of fifty people depend on your next steps. They aren’t “just Camp Hope people”, they have names and their own individual stories. They also have a wide range of challenges and traumas they are working to overcome.  Each of them are doing all they can to break down any barriers to obtaining and maintaining housing. Are you going to send them back onto the streets, spread across neighborhoods, or are you going to give them the time they need in their current camp situation to continue their journey towards a more healthy and sustainable life?


Remember:  you have tried to push this population into shelters before: put simply, it didn’t work, and definitely did not improve the situation for anyone involved. In contrast, the collaborative efforts of the past months on-site at Camp Hope have unequivocally resulted in  numerous formerly-unsheltered campers getting into sustainable housing–much of which would not have been possible without the state’s ‘ROW Initiative’ approach to addressing encampments.  


What path forward will you choose? 

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