“I wish it was still going on,” Justice Andino tells me at Camp Hope in Spokane, Washington. “I liked it here.”
Andino and his wife Tracy were the last two people to exit one of the largest homeless encampments Washington has ever seen. Andino holds back tears as he speaks.
After living at Camp Hope for over a year, Andino says he will miss the community, the people, and the sense of safety.
“I felt like the people gave a sh*t about you, you know?”
Andino and his wife are moving on and into a new apartment, and he says his tears are tears of joy.
Organizers claimed that more than 600 people lived at Camp Hope at its peak. The land in Spokane’s east central neighborhood is property of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Julie Garcia and volunteers with Jewel’s Helping Hands have “put their necks on the line” for the homeless at Camp Hope according to Andino.
“No one in this city has accomplished what she’s done for the homeless,” he tells me.
After 18 months, 25 million dollars from the state, and countless hours collaborating with other service providers and volunteers, Garcia says that more than 200 people from Camp Hope entered transitional housing, apartments, or reconnected with family.
Garcia is touting Camp Hope as a successful model for sanctioned encampments in Washington state.
However, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward claims that Camp Hope wasn’t a success for everyone. She says many formers campers ended up in the city’s main shelter.
Mayor Woodward emphasizes that the encampment was illegal and costly to neighbors and surrounding businesses.
Garcia hijacked the WSDOT property in December, 2021 in protest of the city’s lack of shelter space.
Even Garcia admits she didn’t think the encampment would spiral out of control and that crime and drug use would spill into the surrounding community.
Camp Hope also created tension between Mayor Woodward and WSDOT officials. Both parties view the other as failing to take responsibility.
The encampment made national headlines when former Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich threatened to sweep the camp.
In the fall, improvements were made. Fencing was built around the perimeter of the camp, private security was hired to patrol, a badge system was created for security, and people began to transition into housing.
Garcia says that Camp Hope was never meant to be a permanent solution, and she admits that some of the homeless people violated encampment rules and returned to the city’s streets.
But she says her team is not giving up and will continue outreach in the coming weeks.
Mayor Woodward says she wants to help Spokane heal and prevent something like this from happening again.
As for the Andino family, they’re thankful for the Camp Hope community that walked alongside them until the very end.
Andino says the only way forward from here is upwards, and “that’s where we’re going.”