(The Center Square) – The city of Spokane wants people to know the trouble it goes through and how much money it spends to clean up after people camping illegally within city limits. Last year, just the code enforcement portion for cleaning up trash from illegal camping cost city taxpayers $629,000.
That’s according to the City of Spokane channel, which on Tuesday posted an “Illegal Camping Trashing Our Parks” video highlighting cleanup efforts.
“The demand is certainly increasing citywide,” Jason Ruffling of code enforcement says in the video, during a cleanup effort on the Spokane River. “We do our best to mitigate secondary impacts of homelessness, camping, and specifically, the litter that’s left behind.”
He continued, “And this location is so hard to get to. We partner with the Spokane Riverkeeper to float a lot of the garbage across to another location that’s easier for us to get it again, and transport it for proper disposal.”
“Obviously, our partners with the Parks Department are impacted by this issue as well,” Ruffling observed. “And they’re doing a massive amount cleanup in those locations, too. Even the drug paraphernalia related to camping complaints as well.”
A full quarter of the 2,500 complaints enforcement crews have responded to so far this year have been involving city park property.
The Center Square reached out to Park Director and interim City Manager Garrett Jones for comment on the Parks Department’s involvement in the cleanup process is involved with this process but did not receive a reply.
Cleanup crews are doing between 12 and 18 refuse abatements per day.
By the end of the year, the city’s Homeless Outreach Team expects to have collected a total of 33 tons of trash, which is not always an easy task.
“Specifically, at occupied sites, we’re going to work with them, we’re gonna provide them time to pack what they want to keep with them. While also cleaning up the garbage that is at the site as well,” Ruffing noted, emphasizing the extra dimension it adds to the cleanup effort.
Not all parties agree this is the most effective way to prevent public dumping, nor that homelessness is necessarily the cause.
“First I would say perhaps some trash cans would help,” said Julie Garcia, Founder and Executive Director of Jewels Helping Hands, via email to The Center Square.
Jewels Helping Hands is a nonprofit whose mission is to “ensure people who are houseless have their basic needs met- to survive, thrive, and connect to community resources,” according to its website.
“When people live outside, everything they have to use is disposable, [and] if cost is the issue it seems housing these folks would be most cost effective” Garcia said.
“People experiencing homelessness are not the only litterers,” she noted, before linking to a recent news article highlighting a study released by the Department of Ecology earlier this year which found nearly 38 million pounds of trash marred roadways in the Evergreen State in 2022.
In Spokane, the waste collected on the roadside as well as by code enforcement ends up at the Waste to Energy plant, where “the facility burns municipal solid waste to recover energy in the form of electricity.”