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Inslee Neglects to Meet With Sheriff, Mayor in Visit to Spokane Homeless Project

By RaeLynn Ricarte | The Center Square

By RaeLynn Ricarte | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee neglected to meet with Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Mayor Nadine Woodward during his tour Monday of a new emergency housing complex in Eastern Washington.

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Knezovich had publicly invited Inslee a couple of weeks ago to come to the east side of the state and meet with local officials to discuss closure of a large homeless camp on state land. The sheriff said Inslee came to town Dec. 5 without responding to that invitation.

“The governor didn’t even bother to reach out to me,” Knezovich told The Center Square on Monday afternoon.

Brian Coddington, spokesperson for Mayor Nadine Woodward, said Inslee did not meet with her either.

Inslee’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment on whom he would meet with on his trip. 

Monday’s visit by Inslee was the second in as many weeks. On Nov. 22, Washington’s lead official came to Spokane for a football game at Gonzaga University and toured Camp Hope on Washington Department of Transportation property near Interstate 90.

State officials have resisted Knezovich’s plans to disband the camp due to public health and safety concerns. WSDOT and nonprofits providing services to the camp contend it will take weeks, if not months, to get everyone moved.

Knezovich confirmed Monday that relocation plans aren’t going to wait months. He said winter is here and people in the camp need to be in a warm, dry place and not exposed to the elements. 

“Tomorrow, we are passing out flyers to residents of the camp to let them know they will be relocated and to provide them with information about available resources and services,” he said.

Knezovich said the timing is right to get people out of the camp, with Catholic Charities Eastern Washington set to open the former Quality Inn in West Hills by the end of the week. The renovated motel will provide transitional housing for about 100 individuals.

In addition, the sheriff said the Trent Resource and Assistance Center opened by the city in August can house 250 people or more if necessary. There are other local shelters available if needed, he said. 

“The county will close that camp,” reiterated Knezovich. 

Inslee traveled to Spokane to tour what Catholic Charities has dubbed “The Catalyst Project” because the goal of the facility is to help homeless people transform their lives. The renovated facility was scheduled to open Dec. 1, but plumbing issues have kept the doors closed for a few more days. 

Inslee was joined on his Dec. 5 tour of the converted motel by Rob McCann, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, Washington Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown and Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar.

Late last week, Brown announced that another $5 million would be coming to Spokane to help house residents of Camp Hope. In a written statement, she said the funding is the final installment through the state’s Rights of Way Safety Initiative, unless the Legislature provides more money in next year’s session.

The $143 million initiative provided funds for five counties to help relocate people living in state rights of way.

With the final round of funding, Commerce has invested nearly $24 million in relocating people out of Camp Hope. That funding is expected to provide about 326 beds in temporary or permanent housing and support services, according to Brown’s press release on Friday.

About 50 additional beds will be supplied with housing vouchers.

“All of our partners deserve tremendous thanks, especially the service providers who are on the ground working day in and day out to keep people safe and move them to better housing as quickly as possible,” Brown said in a statement.

The latest round of funding includes $1.76 million for housing; $1.3 million for rental assistance; $620,000 for a detox center that is available 22 hours at a time, and $490,000 to keep Hope House, a downtown women’s shelter, in operation.

Also receiving additional funding is the Trent center, which gets another $500,000 to add to a prior award of $2 million.

Diversion, a program to provide a small level of one-time support to get people into housing, will receive $150,000.

Commerce has already dedicated $18.8 million to help with the Camp Hope situation, stated Brown.

Catholic Charities received $14.8 million of that funding to purchase the motel on West Sunset Boulevard and remodel the premises. 

In past months, about $3.7 million has been allocated by Commerce for coordination and outreach services, and about $370,000 for an information system to track the local homeless population.

More than 70% of the Commerce funds have been given to projects proposed by Spokane city leaders, according to Brown. The remaining 30% went to projects proposed by the Empire Health Foundation or the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.

Although the population of Camp Hope was estimated at about 650 last summer, WSDOT reports the number of residents now at 433. Knezovich and other city officials believe the count is much lower, about 250 people.

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