The Legacy of Camp Hope
A Community of Hope and Mutual Aid
Camp Hope closed June 9th, weeks before its agreed-upon, scheduled closing date of June 30. For eighteen months the people of Camp Hope occupied a barren city block near I-90 and Freya Ave. owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The block is one of many cleared of low income housing decades ago in anticipation of freeway expansion. The people of Camp Hope, brought their worldly belongings. They lived in tents, cars, and old campers. For most of those eighteen months camper numbers far exceeded the beds available in city shelters, even after the opening of Trent Shelter (TRAC)—originally advertised as offering 250 beds.
We would do well to recognize what was accomplished at Camp Hope, and the why and the how of it. Many left Camp Hope with housing in spite of harassment, legal and physical threats, misinformation, and the purposeful withholding by Mayor Woodward’s office of easily offered basic necessities (except for a few dumpsters) from the people of the camp. The Mayor, it seemed, was unable to comprehend that many of the residents of Camp Hope preferred struggling with the cold in the Camp Hope community over trying to adjust to life in a warm warehouse with hundreds of other people. (Neither Camp Hope nor the TRAC shelter has indoor plumbing.)
Julie Garcia, Executive Director of Jewels Helping Hands (JHH), was a tireless Camp Hope organizer and advocate for the people of the Camp. For eighteen months she dove into all the issues of Camp. She developed connections with the camp’s residents, learning of their lived experience, and working to understand the personal barriers they faced. She acquired and managed funding provided by the State of Washington’s Right of Way Initiative, funding that was funneled locally through the Empire Health Foundation. She directed that money toward a variety of programs in the camp, recognizing, developing, using and rewarding the skills of many of the campers themselves in helping other campers and the community of Camp Hope.
There have been several newspaper articles that covered the closing of Camp Hope, but the best account of the closure of Camp Hope comes from Julie Garcia herself in the press release she composed with her thumbs on her smartphone the day the camp closed. I have been privileged to get to know a little of Julie and her story. No one is more compassionately dedicated to helping those living outdoors to obtain permanent, supportive places to live than she. Instead of making pronouncements from the Mayor’s office or press releases from an office in Washington Trust Bank, Julie was present on site, hearing their stories, understanding the barriers faced by those living outdoors, and working hard to offer help, encouragement, and a way out and up. That many are housed who were not is a testament to her dedication and the dedication of many who worked alongside her.
Keep to the high ground,
Camp Hope Closes
by Julie Garcia
June 9, 2023, the last resident of Camp Hope 2.0 left camp. He leaves housed and hopeful.
Camp Hope, the largest Homeless encampment in the State of Washington, with the assistance of the Department of Commerce Right of Way funding, is officially decommissioned and closed. The one-block site shows no sign of the two-year struggle between local city administration on one side and campers, health care providers, and Spokane’s housing activists on the other.
Camp Hope was not closed by police sweeps, litigation, or political will. It was closed based on the success of life-saving legislation, the State’s “Right of Way” solution, by providing temporary shelter in place while housing professionals created better situations for the residents of Camp Hope. It was closed in a trauma-informed, peer lead, intentional, collaborative, compassionate, and humane way.
It started with an unscripted protest on the steps of City Hall highlighting the lack of low barrier shelter capacity in our community in the winter of 2021.
The City administration threatened to sweep the protest away. In response, 68 of the protesters moved onto the lot on the corner of 2nd and Ray, in the City of Spokane onto state-owned property we today refer to formally as Camp Hope.
The population of Camp Hope hit its peak count of 689 during the hot summer of 2022. Early on the Camp was rowdy and unruly. Complaints from campers and neighbors were fierce. Then the State passed the ROW legislation and funding arrived along with a promise to allow campers to temporarily stay. In response, the camp closed its gate to new residents, badged those already living within the perimeter, established rules and obtained an agreement from every camper to adhere to the rules or leave. The administraJon fought back: no water, no electricity, no police coverage.
The hard work began: helping campers obtain essenJal identification documents for people long without basic documentation, identifying and remediating health and social barriers, finding — even creating — real housing options, and developing a much needed Sobering Center. Services provided on-site covered behavioral/mental health services, access to medical care on side, sobriety services, harm reduction, criminal justice assistance, basic personal needs, and an army of peer/housing specialist/caseworkers.
During the second half of 2022, local authorities promised to sweep the Camp and bus, jail, or simply disperse the campers back into alleys, overpasses, and whereever people without homes or shelter can briefly exist. In response three campers and Jewels Helping Hands filed a federal lawsuit to stop an illegal raid. Federal Judge Bastian granted the Camp a restraining order, based on the rights of those experiencing homelessness established under Martin v. Boise and Blake v. Grants Pass.
The success of the ROW Initiative did not come easily. But as of today we reach our ultimate goal: safe, humane, and legal closing.
The story is compelling.
In the last 18 months 200+ people experiencing chronic (i.e., multiple years of) homelessness have been housed through the ROW Housing opJons supported by Empire Health Foundation, Department of Commerce funds and on-site providers, Revive Counseling, Jewels Helping Hands, Compassionate Addiction Treatment and Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.
In the last 18 months 150+ campers were employed. Programs teaching skilled trades were implemented, lived experience opportunities were implemented, employment specialists engaged, and second chance employment programs were utilized.
The data collected during the existence of Camp Hope will prove beneficial to other communiJes struggling to move the needle in their Chronically Homeless Populations. This data is a snapshot of chronic homelessness not only in Spokane but anywhere in the nation.
The model created at Camp Hope can be replicated with successful outcomes and appropriate intervenJons. The successful closing and creation of the Camp Hope model — using people- centered methods — proves that low-barrier, trauma-informed, peer-led, data driven solutions that honor the self-determination of the people experiencing homelessness works. This model can be used to provide services to the members of any community experiencing chronic homelessness.
Many lessons learned from Camp Hope, but the five main ones are.
Politics has no place in homeless services.
Peers and workers with lived experience are the experts in the room.
Collaboration of Services and Service Providers are the keys to successful outcomes.
600+ people in any neighborhood has a gigantic impact.
We can move the needle in homeless services as a community.
There is much still to be done. Over 200 badged Camp Hoper residents are unaccounted for. Most probably remain in the community. The reengagement of that populaJon is the next priority. In the meantime, Jewels Helping Hands will continue to follow our housed campers and assist in maintaining and sustaining their housing and reengaging those that fell through the cracks.
Thank you to the residents of Camp Hope, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, Revive Counseling, Compassionate Addiction Treatment, Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, Empire Health Foundation, on and off-site service providers, churches and community volunteers, Housing Navigators, Catalyst and Catalyst employees and all those who participated in aiding ROW funded providers to close this encampment successfully and compassionately. Special thanks go to the architects of the ROW initiative and the tireless state officials who made sure that funding was dedicated to Spokane as well as the State’s west-side cities. Commerce director Lisa Brown was the key to Spokane’s success in obtaining funds.
Today, we will celebrate the hard work, hard won victories, the care and compassion, the community and collaboration, and the Camp closing. Media is allowed on site for quesJons from 12-3pm. Staff from Revive Counseling, Jewel’s Helping Hands, Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, Compassionate AddicJon Treatment and Empire Health FoundaJon will be on site to answer quesJons.
Executive Director/Founder Jewels Helping Hands