The Interstate 90 viaduct spans about 4,000 feet through Spokane, cutting through the historic downtown. The city constructed a skate park, tennis courts and a parking lot under the structure and, until recently, it also served as a roof to some 50 homeless people.
On Thursday, Jan. 10, city workers notified people living under I-90 that they had 24 hours to clear their tents and belongings and find another place to stay.
Social workers have visited the location since the New Year to encourage people to move into one of the nearby emergency shelters.
People have camped under the viaduct for years, said Marlene Feist, spokesperson for the city of Spokane, but since Jan. 1 their numbers have grown so that not everyone is covered by the structure.
Violating a camping ordinance is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. Police and city officials, however, hope for voluntary compliance and do not intend to fine people, Feist said.
The Washington State Department of Transportation owns the property but has leased it to Spokane since 1970. City ordinances allow encampments on public and private property, but they require permits.
This encampment gradually grew on its own, Feist said.
She said the covered area is appealing because it offers shelter from the elements and also because a program called Blessings Under the Bridge serves meals there every day.
Like many cities, Spokane has a
10-Year Plan to End Homelessness that calls for moving people into permanent housing.
“Our plan really demands that we transition people from homelessness into a sustainable housing situation,” Feist said. “For us, tents outdoors in our climate is not one of those solutions.”
Area emergency shelters have openings and are not currently full.
“We’re really hopeful that what we can do is make the help more attractive than being outside,” Feist said.