City Files for Chronic Nuisance Relief

Brian Coddington, Communications Director, 509.625.6740

Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at 11:35 a.m.

The City is asking a Superior Court judge to declare the large homeless encampment on state transportation property in an East Central neighborhood a chronic and drug nuisance property and authorize a warrant of abatement for its cleanup.

The 25-page action filed Monday asserts that “ongoing illegal drug and criminal activity continues to have a tremendous negative impact upon the quality of life, safety, and health of the surrounding neighborhood and community.” The complaint alleges the property and surrounding neighborhood is plagued by ongoing drug activity, property crime, trafficking in stolen property, litter and rubbish, reckless burning, vehicle prowling and stolen vehicles, burglary, loss of business, intimidation and harassment, rape and indecent liberties, and threat to public health and safety.

“The impact to the neighborhood and the risk of harm to those staying at the camp, the neighbors, businesses, and their customers, and anyone who passes by has become too great,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said. “We have been patient and tried to work with the state, but our requests for a transparent plan with a realistic timeline that considers everyone involved have been ignored. We are taking this action before anyone else gets hurt.” 

A propane tank explosion caused a fire and serious injuries to two of the camp’s occupants on Friday. The incident is similar to a recent fire at a homeless encampment in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood near the Ship Canal Bridge that the Washington State Department of Transportation has said in response to protest by parents and neighbors will close by the end of the month. Both encampments are close to schools.

“The state acted quickly and decisively in Seattle to protect the neighborhood interests and we expect the same in Spokane,” Woodward said.

The City contends in the nuisance action that it has given the state several months notice and opportunity to voluntarily abate the property. The complaint alleges:

  • The state failed to stop the drug and criminal activity that is “robbing this neighborhood of their peace and quiet enjoyment.”
  • The property is being used to deliver, sell, store, or give away controlled substances.
  • The state is failing to prevent occupants of the property from:
    • Entering vehicles, homes, and property with the intent to commit crimes.
    • Organizing, planning, financing, directing, managing or supervising the theft of property for sale or trade to others.
    • Knowingly causing fires on the property that recklessly place other structures in danger of destruction or damage.
    • Entering vehicles with the intent to commit crimes, are unlawfully possessing stolen vehicles, and are wrongfully obtaining control over vehicles.
    • Entering buildings with the intent to commit crimes.
  • The accumulation of litter, refuse, rubbish, and discarded items and waste materials jeopardizes community health and safety.
  • The site is generating an inordinate amount of property damage, loss of business revenue and direct costs to local businesses.
  • Camp occupants are knowingly and maliciously threatening neighbors with bodily injury, property damage, and other acts intended to threaten neighbors’ physical or mental health or safety.

“The impact the WSDOT encampment continues to have on this neighborhood is devastating,” the complaint says.

Two individuals staying at the encampment were attempting to fill propane tanks in a tent where a propane heater was in operation causing the explosion and subsequent fire on Friday. The explosion drew the attention of patrol officers who found a tent fully engulfed in flames and propane tanks shooting skyward. Flames and smoke could be seen from miles away and the explosion could be heard throughout the city.

The complaint asks a judge to declare the property a drug, chronic, and public nuisance and grant a warrant of abatement authorizing immediate closure of the camp, securing of the property, cleanup of debris, and reimbursement for the costs the City incurred for security, garbage collection, and other services.