Homelessness has impacted many communities, including Spokane Valley.
The information below may help when assisting homeless individuals or minimizing the negative impacts of individuals living on the streets or in vehicles/tents near your home or business.
Interacting with the Homeless
As a homeowner or business owner/operator, you may feel that interacting with the homeless population is overwhelming. However, it is important to remember that people experiencing homelessness are just that - people.
Whether it is a first-time experience with a homeless person, or a frequent trespasser, it is important to remain calm and take a smart approach while handling the situation. This will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. Rather than providing food or money yourself to a homeless individual, facilitating a connection to local resources for meals, clothing and shelter may provide a better first step to long-term stability for someone experiencing homelessness.
The city has developed a list of resources for homeless individuals that businesses can distribute. In addition, a new dashboard, called ShelterMeSpokane.org, displays timely data regarding where shelter space is available in the region. Data is input directly by regional shelter providers and includes a time stamp as to when the provider last updated the information. The site is intended to inform homeless individuals, other shelters, case managers and police officers. Property owners are responsible for creating the boundaries of what is tolerated on their property.
Public Vs Private Property: Who Is Responsible?
- Private Property: Owners of vacant property and businesses are responsible for maintaining their own private property, according to Spokane Valley municipal code.
- Public Property: the City of Spokane Valley is responsible for maintaining city-owned property and right-of-way, and enforcing the laws on this property. This includes city parks, city sidewalks, public right-of-way and other municipal property.
While being homeless is not a crime, there is conduct that is illegal and should be reported to either the City of Spokane Valley or to Spokane Valley Police Department. Illegal activities include:
- Public intoxication
- Loitering, fighting, trespassing or aggressive panhandling
- Public urination and defecation
- Consuming alcoholic beverages in certain public spaces
- Camping or sleeping in city parks
- Repeatedly littering or leaving trash
- Obstructing public sidewalks
- Living in vehicles or trailers parked on a public street
- Disturbing the peace with loud and unreasonable noises
- Behaving in an aggressive, threatening manner
Call 911 immediately if your experience with a homeless individual involves a crime or an emergency. Call 911:
- If you are the victim of a crime that is in progress or has just occurred
- If you witness a crime that is in progress or has just occurred
- If you are the victim of a crime and the suspect remains in the area
- If you need an immediate police response because you have been threatened or feel unsafe
- If you need to report a fire or if you are trapped in a fire
- If there is a medical emergency
Call Crime Check at 509-456-2233 if your experience with a homeless individual is not an emergency, but you wish to file a police report. Crime Check is a service provided by Spokane Regional Emergency Communications for non-emergency calls and is available 24/7. Call Crime Check if:
- If you are the victim of a crime that is no longer in progress
- If you witnessed a crime that previously occurred
- If you have information about a past crime
- To add information to a previous crime report
- To report a crime after the fact which does not require an officer/deputy at the scene
When calling Crime Check, remain calm and identify your location and phone number. Stay on the line until the call receiver is finished obtaining the necessary information. If you are unsure if the situation is an emergency, dial 911 and let the call receiver decide what action is necessary.
Please utilize the city's SVexpress service to report active or abandoned campsites, abandoned carts or trash, individuals living in vehicles in city parks, and related issues on city property and right-of-way.
- The city utilizes its code enforcement officers and a homeless outreach team (comprised of a homeless and housing coordinator, police officer and a resource specialist) to reach out to individuals experiencing homelessness and connect them to area food banks, shelters or other services.
- The city is committed to resolve and clean abandoned or illegal encampments and/or remove trash, food carts and other waste from city property and right-of-way. Learn more about the city's code enforcement services.
- Cleaning abandoned campsites, trash and other waste on private property is the responsibility of the property owner.
You can download the mobile app SVexpress311 to a phone (both Android and iOS versions are available). The service allows residents to site the location of the problem on a map and request assistance. If you can't access SVexpress, please call the city directly at 509-720-5000 to file a report.
Interacting with Homeless Individuals
Remember, as a business owner/operator, you are responsible for creating the boundaries of what is tolerated on your property. Businesses owners are encouraged to discuss scenarios with employees on how to communicate with homeless individuals. Having well-informed and trained employees is an effective way to ensure these individuals are treated with empathy and dignity while maintaining the safety and integrity of the business.
Key elements to a positive outcome when interacting with a homeless individual:
- Start by maintaining a safe distance.
- Thoughtfully acknowledge and connect with the individual with casual eye contact, a friendly greeting, or even a simple smile. This could be the only human interaction they have had all week.
- A good idea on the initial approach upon finding someone sleeping or loitering on your property is to ask: "Can I call someone for you?" or politely ask that person to leave.
- If the person asks for money, you can use the opportunity to redirect and say: "It sounds like you are asking for help, let me call someone to come help you." Then call either the police or report the situation to Crime Check.
Recommended verbal interactions with homeless individuals:
- "Hello, you can't stay here. Can I call someone to help you? If not, will you please move along?"
- If the homeless individual moves, say: "Thanks for moving along."
- If the person does not move along: "I would rather not call the police, but it seems that I must. I am calling the police right now."
- If the person reluctantly leaves but returns quickly to your property: "I have asked you to move along, and you have not. I am sorry, but I am going to have to call the police. You need to leave the property."
Steps to Better Protect Your Property
Owners of vacant property and business owners/operators can take steps to discourage homeless individuals or others from violating their property. The city encourages property owners to keep their spaces clean and maintained, and consider improvements and/or changes to better manage the surrounding environment.
One of the most effective tools for securing your property is lighting. A well-lit property is proven to be a deterrent for criminal activity, homeless encampments and improved overall safety.
Installing or retrofitting older low-pressure sodium (LPS) lighting with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) increases your bottom line by lowering energy and maintenance costs, and improves nighttime safety. Older LPS bulbs emit an orange glow that does not accurately depict the color scale of the surrounding area; it causes everything to look brown, black and orange, and can trick the naked eye. With LEDs, the color spectrum is day-like and allows you to see the full color spectrum. This can help employees more clearly see potential intruders, allow drivers to see pedestrians walking in the roadway, and increase peace of mind with a better awareness of the surroundings. These fixtures are frequently combined with photocells and/or motion sensors and have proven to be a great deterrent for unsavory activity around a property. Many businesses affected by those experiencing homelessness report that lighting with a photoelectric controller can be the single best method to remedy issues with unwanted people on their property. Don't forget to ensure that timers for lighting are appropriately set, functional and installed accurately.
Securing Property with Fencing
Securing the perimeter of a property with fencing is a critical part in making a business less attractive to individuals experiencing homelessness. Wrought iron or expanded metal fencing made from special carbon steel, stainless steel, or aluminum is recommended and can increase tensile strength, with a diamond pattern small enough that it is virtually impossible to cut, climb or crawl under.
The type of fencing used for a business should be carefully considered due to future issues of maintenance, vandalism, visibility, and the ability to keep unwanted individuals off the property. Keep in mind that rear alleyways, alcoves, and other areas concealed from public view are difficult to defend from undesired activity. Property owners and businesses can successfully eliminate many problems with the right fencing, and it can improve the aesthetic and safety of a property/business.
Spokane Valley Crime Prevention Deputy Louis Acosta with the Spokane Valley Police Department can do a security assessment and provide recommendations for improvement to businesses. Email Deputy Acosta or call 609-477-3119. There are also local fencing retailers that can assess the property and provide assistance.
One of the quickest ways to move unauthorized persons off your property is a proper trash enclosure. Those experiencing homelessness are dependent on discarded materials to fabricate into dwellings and recycle for cash - your waste system, if not properly enclosed, provides an endless supply.
The most common and effective trash enclosures are structures built to provide protection for dumpsters and for recyclable materials. Normally constructed of solid masonry walls with a roof and swinging gates, trash enclosures are designed to be the main access point for your trash service provider. Trash gates should be able to take a lot of wear and tear, and be constructed of heavy gauge structural steel and metal decking to stand up to frequent use. These gates should provide a locking mechanism, which is critical to securing your property. Proper locking devices and routine maintenance will ensure you are only paying for the waste you generate, eliminate spillage, keep scraps that attract rodents in the trash, stop unauthorized users from sleeping in the enclosure, prevent drug usage and storing needles, and prohibits the removal of sensitive items from the waste system.
By securing this area, you can also help protect employees from potential encounters with homeless individuals. Make sure to post signage to notify that your trash enclosure is for private use only.
Vegetation, Maintenance & Landscaping
When landscaping around your business, ensure that you are not providing hiding spots or places to camp or hangout. Large areas of dirt should be backfilled with a material that reduces the chances of illegal loitering and camping, such as large river rocks. Shrub heights should be kept below calf height to prevent people from camping or hiding behind them. Tree canopies should begin at 6 feet or more off the ground to prevent people from hiding or creating illegal encampments in or around the area. Discuss these ideas with your landscape contractor.
Businesses that have concerns about overgrown vegetation on city property or public right-of-way can report the problem to the city's SVexpress. The city will reduce or remove the overgrown vegetation.
Graffiti is a form of vandalism that negatively impacts economic development and property values, as well as the perception that residents and visitors have about the community. If you see graffiti vandalism in progress, call 911 and report it immediately. Do not confront the individuals.
- Graffiti vandalism on private property should be reported to Crime Check.
- Graffiti on city property or right-of-way should be reported to the city's code enforcement team via SVexpress.
If you locate graffiti on your private property, please try to remove it immediately. By doing so, you will discourage further graffiti. Graffiti vandals often want to gain recognition for their work and once they realize that their graffiti will be removed quickly from a location, they will likely be deterred from striking there again.
Unauthorized or Abandoned Vehicles
Businesses can report unauthorized, abandoned or junk vehicles on their private property to Crime Check. This will enable police officers to identify if the vehicle has been reported stolen or involved in a crime. The property owner is generally responsible for removing the abandoned vehicle from his/her property. Businesses can work with local towing companies to have the vehicle removed.
If you believe a vehicle is unauthorized or abandoned on city property or public right-of-way, please report the vehicle to the city's Code Enforcement team via SVexpress.