HEAT WAVE DAY 5 | With temperatures expected to hit 104 degrees this weekend, the most pressing supply needs for Camp Hope are ice, Gatorade, pet food, roller gauze and gauze pads.
Who will help? It’s a question that’s swirled around the Camp Hope community as the ongoing heat wave brings dangerously high temperatures to the region. Jewels Helping Hands, with support from Empire Health Foundation, has made it clear they’ll do what it takes to provide an on-site cooling center. Meanwhile, a divided city government has fought over whether or not to provide relief directly to Camp Hope residents, or try to get the cooling center taken down.
As the heat has intensified, the community has shown more support than ever before, according to Timothy Morgan, who organizes security at the camp. Pallets worth of Gatorade and water, hundreds of pounds of ice, and other needs like sunscreen and toiletries have come from community organizations and individuals who’ve felt the heat and wanted to do what they can to help the residents of Camp Hope survive.
Father and son duo John and Micah, who didn’t want to draw attention to themselves by sharing their full names, felt compelled to provide support. “I get hot walking from my air conditioned house to my air conditioned car, I can only imagine what it’s like in those tents,” John said. “I thought we could bring some water down to help people out.”
That generosity doesn’t go unnoticed by the residents of Camp Hope who are effusive in their gratitude. “This is a life saver,” said Mitchell Penberthy, who was cooling off in the cooling shelter across the street from Camp Hope. “I’m grateful, very happy for this. Whoever put this up, high marks for that. This is a lot better than the tent.”
While residents share their gratitude for help from outside the camp, they also band together to help each other. As they look out for the most vulnerable and share the resources that they have, networks of mutual aid have developed in the community. Still, more support is needed, especially when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment.
With the heat wave incoming, Chris Senn, a camp resident, veteran and – hoping to hear back on a job soon – painter, was part of a group helping their fellow community members. “I served in the military, so I've been in the heat before,” Senn said. “I know how to take care of myself. It's the older people I worry about. So we all try to help out and take care of them.”
Pointing to an RV in a corner of the lot, Senn said they had moved an elderly lady into the vehicle so she could stay cool there through the heat wave. “We all pitched in, got a generator and an AC unit for the motorhome,” Senn said. All together he said that meant pooling together $500 from people within the camp.
“There's a lot of bad said about this place, but when it comes down to it, we all help each other out,” Senn said. “It's the way I remember Spokane as a kid. As a town that always pulled together for everybody.”
As I was speaking with people inside the cooling tent, Theophil Braa came into the tent from a red truck in the street and grabbed three water bottles from supplies donated to Camp Hope. He pointed his finger, asked me if I was from the media and said he wanted to tell his piece of the story.
Braa has a felony record and has lived on the streets. He’s in a home now and engaged to his partner, who was with him at the camp as they came by to check-it out and grab themselves water from supplies donated to Camp Hope.
Braa initially expressed disgust for the people living at Camp Hope, apparently fueled in part by anguish from the recent loss of a family member to a Fentanyl overdose. He admonished the people at the camp for not going to shelters and seeking treatment — rattling off a number of local service providers like Salvation Army, Goodwill and the Martin Luther King Center who could help them. He also said Jewels Helping Hands wasn’t doing them any favors by helping them survive out here.
To Braa, Camp Hope seemed like a dead end and a way for people to escape rather than grow. “It’s possible to raise up out of this, man,” he said. “I know there’s sad stories. But there’s also hope. But it’s a choice and it’s hard. I just want these people to know that if they make a different choice or a different decision [they can move on].”
I asked Braa what it was that helped him move on and if he was interested in sharing his experience with any of the camp residents. He said if he talked to them, maybe one in 10 would be receptive. He didn’t appear to have the time or will to try.
Still, Braa’s apparent disdain dissipated the more he talked about his own story and the challenges he has faced. “These are my brothers and sisters, whether I'm standing here clean and showered or not, the only reason separating me from them is dope and choice,” Braa said. “I'm just tired, bro. I'm tired of burying our people.”
Camp Hope does have some mental health and addiction treatment organizations that visit and work to get people into services. Compassionate Addiction Treatment and Ideal Option both make regular visits to work with residents, and Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services and Pioneer Human Services are both expected to begin working with camp residents, according to Julie Garcia, the founder and executive director of Jewels Helping Hands.
For resident Senn, the biggest challenge facing the Camp Hope community is mental health. “I personally think there's a lot of mental health problems in this place,” he said. “I think there should be some mental health help for some of these people.”
“I used to be a caregiver for developmentally disabled people,” Senn said. “I see a lot of it here. We've got doctors that come in a couple, three times a week to help out, but I don't see any mental health people coming out. That would be huge.”
While mental health is a challenge in the Camp Hope community and there’s a stated need for more support, people have also found the community as a place where they feel supported.
In the cooling tent, Melissa B., a camp resident, doled out two Gatorades each to fellow residents from a trash can full of ice. Melissa grew up in Spokane Valley and said that giving back to the community at Camp Hope by helping with distribution is important for her because the community here has given so much in return. When she came here, she said she had nothing. But, then people banded around her and gave her a place where she felt she belonged.
Melissa said she was born with a silver spoon and once had a far different lifestyle. “I made six figures. I had three cars. I had full custody of all my kids,” she said. “But I got beat every day and it wasn't worth it. So, I gave it all up.”
Giving it all up led her to Camp Hope and a newfound sense of self and community. “I’ve learned a lot and without this experience I don’t think I ever would have,” Melissa said. “These people out here, I wouldn’t change them for the world, because every single one of these guys they've had my back more than my family ever did.”
“We have fights, we have problems just like everybody else — but our walls are paper thin,” Melissa said. “We are just like everyone else. We’re people. Our houses are just made different.”
Read Day 6 here.
—edited by Valerie Osier