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Spokane Valley official proposes ‘on-the-spot adjudication’ for homeless

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(The Center Square) – As cities around the country shift toward enforcing camping bans to essentially outlaw homelessness, a proposal from Spokane Valley could provide a new, one-of-a-kind approach.

The proposal followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Grants Pass v. Johnson, which reversed the precedent that restricted cities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances. While Spokane Valley’s camping ban still needs an update to reflect the change, one council member is calling for a new approach to take matters a step further.

Councilmember Al Merkel issued a press release on Friday proposing a “mobile justice service” for “on-the-spot adjudication.” However, there are still questions over the legality of such a program, which will require time to resolve and possible tweaks from the city council.

“I would like to hear your thoughts and criticisms, as well as alternative plans,” Merkel wrote in the release. “This is a draft plan and needs a lot of work. After we get some responses, I will put together a poll to gather more direction.”

Merkel’s pitch involves creating a team of police, a magistrate, a defense attorney and social workers to adjudicate homeless individuals on the spot while also “ensuring due process.”

In a phone call with The Center Square, Merkel said that the initiative is legal but untested based on what he’s heard from experts. Regardless, the city will require additional scoping before it has a chance at passing.

The proposal also involves establishing a regional facility outside of residential centers to provide comprehensive services under certain conditions regarding behavior and sobriety.

According to the release, those services could include sobriety assistance, mental health support, job placement assistance and transitional housing support.

However, also under the pitch, “individuals found in violation would be transported to the facility for mandatory meetings with case managers to help them rejoin society,” though Merkel said it would not involve involuntarily holding them.

He said the initiative isn’t meant to fine or jail violators; it’s intended to treat and support individuals who’ve hit rock bottom. While Merkel proposed mandated meetings, individuals would be free to leave after being transported to the proposed facility, he said.

If an individual continues to refuse treatment or support, further action, whether criminally charging the person or some other type of intervention, might be necessary, Merkel said.

Regardless, the idea is too broad for Spokane Valley to support alone, so Merkel is calling on the City of Spokane and the rest of the county to engage in conversations about a regional approach.

“Spokane Valley and the 4th [Legislative District] can become the trailblazer on tackling this problem throughout our great state,” Merkel wrote in the release. “I intend to enthusiastically champion our successes at the state level so together we can make Washington state a great place to live again!”

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