The Ozzie and Nadine Show
Along with Bingle and Cathcart
Note: The title of this post is shamelessly borrowed from an article by Shawn Vestal that appeared in the Spokesman on Saturday, September 24th. (See P.S.)
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, City of Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, City of Spokane Councilmen Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart, and Sheriff-Candidate John Nowels want Camp Hope to evaporate. The existence of Camp Hope is a thorn in the side of their Republican “let’s use a stick” narrative that homeless people are homeless by choice, that homelessness is a badge of moral failure, that the way to “help” such lazy people is to punish and disperse them rather than offer a hand.
Woodward’s mindset was best expressed by her earlier statement:
I think we need to get to the point where we’re working to make homelessness less comfortable and get people connected to services.
In other words, in Woodward’s mind, coercion, force, and threats are the best way to deal with the Camp Hope people. Beat ‘em while they’re down. Make their lot worse so they will come to accept what we grudgingly offer (but which we haven’t organized the resources to provide).
Early last week Julie Garcia of Jewels Helping Hands, Maurice Smith of My Road Leads Home, Empire Health Services, Revive Counseling Spokane, and Compassionate Addiction Treatment, among others, people and groups actually working with the roughly six hundred people living at Camp Hope, seemed to be getting at least a little reduction in bluster from Woodward and her administration. One could have imagined that Woodward, having argued and cajoled her way to an anti-camping ordinance passed by the City of Spokane City Council, would cease her threats so that the people, groups, and agencies actually working at Camp Hope could peacefully carry out their efforts to provide housing and appropriate services.
But, no. Counterproductively, the Woodward administration issued another threat last Wednesday, covered by RANGE Media:
That letter said that the large tent [erected in the summer of 2022 as a cooling tent], which was converted to a supply tent and host site for outreach services as the threat of extreme heat lessened, must be brought down by September 22 or face daily fines of $536.
Then, on Thursday, RANGE Media broke the news that outgoing Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announced that he step in and resolve the issue. “Sheriff threatens to sweep Camp Hope as state and city start working together”. His breathtakingly blind solution:
My plan is to provide bus tickets to the location of each residents’ choice, allowing them to reunite with family and to assist them in recovery. I will also engage the faith community to help with drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment.
…Consider this letter notice to WSDOT that I plan to clear this camp by mid-October, 2022.
Just what “faith community” does Ozzie propose to engage that isn’t already on the ground in Camp Hope? Maurice Smith, who is on the ground at Camp Hope every day, is a sterling example of the Christian faith community at work. What imagined magic does Ozzie think he can make happen by calling in his idea of a faith community?
Under Woodward’s “leadership” around the time of the Convention Center debacle the Mayor’s office let this slip a comment that has rattled in my head ever since:
"I have been calling facilities for months, quite bummed and disappointed that we weren't able to connect more with our faith-based organizations in our community," Sarah Nuss, the city's director of emergency management, told the council today. "It wasn't because work isn't going on. It's because we're not able to find anyone to work with us."
This “it’s not the government’s job” to address community issues is a Republican article of faith baldly expressed in WeBelieveWeVote’s Survey Question 12 on the Poor and Needy, a survey nearly every local Republican candidate has filled out and a statement with which most indicate full agreement:
Providing a safety net for the poor and needy is the responsibility of individuals, families, churches, and local communities. It is not the responsibility of the government, which primarily exists to protect citizens from foreign and domestic threats.
After Knezovich’s “I will fix it” letter, RANGE Media was excluded from the Sheriff’s press conference in what can only be seen as an act of retribution for RANGE’s coverage of Ozzie’s letter. Read “The importance of a free press” and then sign up with RANGE and contribute to their efforts by buying a subscription. They deserve our support.
Neither Knezovich nor Woodward have actually visited Camp Hope and talked with any of its residents the way Gavin Cooley (short youtube video), Dan Simonson (A View of Hope From Camp Hope), and others have done. Spokane City Councilman Michael Cathcart (currently running against Amber Waldref for a position on the new Spokane County Commission), based on an ephemeral Facebook post of his from a few years ago, is so paranoid he likely wouldn’t approach the place without a loaded sidearm—and certainly couldn’t possibly approach the Camp with an open mind.
Knezovich, Woodward, Cathcart and Bingle are doing (or backing) everything they can to make all of Camp Hope’s homeless residents uncomfortable, frightened and uneasy—to set up roadblocks on the road to resolution—even as others work in good faith to help devolve Camp Hope in a humane manner before winter.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. I started writing this post with an overwhelming amount of material—and the intent to feature Shawn Vestal’s Saturday Spokesman article about Ozzie’s threats: “If dumb, angry responses to homelessness worked, we’d have solved it already.” Mr. Vestal’s writing alone is enough to justify a Spokesman subscription, but, just in case you can’t access this article which is available only in electrons I have copied it below.
Shawn Vestal, September 24th, 2022:
The community is desperate for effective, unified leadership on homelessness.
Instead, we’re being treated to “The Ozzie and Nadine Show” – a hacky farce of grandiose proportions, in which local officials who could make a real difference instead lash out, politicize, undermine, threaten and obstruct progress in bringing an end to Camp Hope.
If they get their way, the camp’s residents will not be housed, and they won’t magically disappear. They’ll move around to other places in town, and the problem will continue to worsen, no matter how many misdemeanor citations the police department rains down on them.
This is the chief accomplishment of Nadine Woodward’s administration on homelessness, after all – a steep rise in the ineffective shuffling-about of homeless people. As feverishly as she tries to spread the blame, there is no single official in our community who bears more responsibility for what’s gone wrong.
As the state-funded effort to clear the encampment proceeds, the community desperately needs to see it work. We desperately need leaders pulling together behind real efforts to achieve real results, at Camp Hope and with the many other corners of this emergency as well.
Instead, we’re getting an unproductive game of chicken that raises a ton of questions.
Whose authority prevails in these conflicts? Might the city actually sue the agencies that are spending $24 million to address homelessness? Could there be a standoff at the camp between sheriff’s deputies and state patrolmen? How far will the rash, impetuous sheriff go to prove that the state is not the boss of him?
Dumb questions, political posturing, failures of leadership.
It’s “The Ozzie and Nadine Show.”
The state, which owns the land inside the city limits on which Camp Hope sits, is spending millions to find housing for the camp’s residents. You might think local officials who have failed to make a dent in this problem would have a very simple response: Thank you!
Right now, Empire Health Foundation is spearheading an outreach effort to connect each camp resident to a place to live. The foundation is doing this because our local governments are not.
This is not a project based on fantasies or wishful thinking, but on the reality that each person there will have different needs and that finding everyone a place to go – in a city that does not have enough places for them to go – will take more than a couple of weeks.
It is based not on a simplistic desire to judge those people’s level of deserving, but to recognize that whatever their circumstances, it is better for them and better for everyone else if they are living indoors – ideally with access to the services that would help them improve their lives.
Does everyone wish all of this could happen instantly? Of course. But what will happen if the campers are just disbursed and driven off – if the cops are sent in swinging their billy clubs, which is so clearly the dream of some? How does that story end?
Those who dream this dream think it ends with homeless people moving … away. Not into other neighborhoods. Not onto riverbanks or under train tracks or in parks.
Just … away.
Away, away! Shown the stern hand of a no-nonsense sheriff and pro-accountability mayor, the hundreds and hundreds of homeless people throughout our community will just vanish.
Such wishful thinking animates “The Ozzie and Nadine Show,” with the lead actors blaming the state for the problem entirely, attempting to establish a wildly unrealistic deadline for the camp’s removal, and threatening actions that may satisfy the pro-cruelty crowd in the short term, but which would be disastrous.
Woodward has done this by attempting to fine the state under the city’s nuisance laws, demanding reimbursement of the city’s costs associated with the encampment and removal of a cooling/warming tent, as well as setting a mid-October deadline to have the camp cleared.
The heads of the three state agencies responded earlier this week with an utter broadside – sharply rebuking the city, making it clear they would not honor the “completely unrealistic” deadline, refusing the attempt to extort nuisance payments, and accurately noting that the problem of homelessness in Spokane has been exacerbated by the failures of the mayor herself.
In a particularly apt poke, the letter – signed by Commerce Secretary Lisa Brown, state patrol Chief John Batiste, and Transportation Secretary Roger Millar – calls out the mayor for being “more preoccupied with optics than action.”
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich followed with more optics, firing off a scabrous letter Thursday to the Department of Transportation that displays all the hallmarks of lame-duck Knezovichism: personal smears, authoritarian bluster, ignorance about the problem, political cheap shots, boundless arrogance.
Knezovich claims he will personally clear the camp in a few weeks. The great leader will fix things and it will be quick, thank you very much. He claims he will buy bus tickets for the camp residents, partner with churches to provide drug and mental health treatment – because everyone knows how ample the drug treatment resources in this community are – and voila!
More darkly, the sheriff hints at malfeasance and criminal allegations involving supporters of camp, calling for audits and investigations of everyone in sight. This line of thought – that those helping homeless people are actually crafty profiteers and fraudsters – is common slander among the fans of “The Ozzie and Nadine Show,” but slinging vague allegations of fraud like some Facebook troll is scummy behavior for a public official.
It is all beyond absurd. A sheriff on a white horse with a handful of bus tickets, riding to the mayor’s rescue! Huzzah!
Unfortunately, we can’t solve this problem with the dumb ideas and misdirected anger of “The Ozzie and Nadine Show.”
If we could, it would already be solved.