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Jul 25, 2022 3 min read

Camp Hope braces for extreme heat

A photo of the tents and RVs that make up Camp Hope in Spokane set in front of a blazing orange sun.
(Photo illustration by Valerie Osier)

HEAT WAVE DAY 1 | Temperatures are expected to hit 104 degrees in Spokane this week. Carl is checking in with our unhoused neighbors at Camp Hope every day to see how they’re faring and what they need.

It’s too damn hot. Even indoors, people without adequate air conditioning and insulation face danger in the ongoing heat wave moving through the Pacific Northwest. Outdoors, with little to no shade, the prospects are deadly. Last year, there were 20 confirmed deaths due to the unprecedented heat dome that seared the region. But there wasn’t a barely shaded community of about 600 living in tents and vehicles as there is now at Camp Hope.

Day 1 - Monday

Today at Camp Hope, as the temperature dial in my car read 98 degrees, I checked in at the camp with my wife and brought some supplies — ice, water, gatorade and coolers. An elderly man with spindly arms, had been found passed out in his tent. He was being watched over as Julie Garcia and other camp residents mixed powdered gatorade into water bottles and tried to get him rehydrated. Garcia, the executive director of Jewels Helping Hands, said she’s worried people won’t survive the heat wave.

The city just opened a handful of cooling centers at local libraries on Monday with limited hours.

Garcia’s organization has put forth plans for a cooling shelter for the camp that would cost $21,000. She said there hasn’t been a response from the city. “We’re out here in these conditions where people could be dying, and they’re talking about how to enforce sit-lie (anti-camping measures) today,” Garcia said. Without action from the city, Garcia said she and others need as much support as possible from the community and that there’s already been a lot of community help. “The community is helping and that’s what matters,” she said.

Throughout this week, RANGE will be covering the impacts of the heat wave on Camp Hope’s hundreds of residents. We’ll also be highlighting the needs of those in the community suffering from the extreme heat, ways to help and the volunteers pulling together to help people in our community survive the heat.

Today, I spoke with Donna Russell and Vaughn Sypher, neighbors to Camp Hope who are providing the camp with water through a 600 ft long hose that runs from their house to the camp. As we spoke, people were using the water to cool down and filling up large jugs to make Gatorade. Here’s what Russell and Sypher had to say about why they’re helping the campers and their experience providing water for them over the last month or so.

Russell: “They need water just as well as you and I do. They’re paying our water bill, so you know what, they’re paying for it, they can have water.

We don’t get harassed by any of the homeless people. They don’t bother our home, they don’t bother our vehicles at all. If they need a sandwich I will give them a sandwich.

I’m not being harassed by the cops, I’m not being harassed by the city. They came, they asked me, they made a suggestion that I stop giving them water. I said no. The two officers that came and talked to me and the other one who came the other day… they were actually polite.”

Sypher: "They suggested that we don’t do it because it just attracts more people there. They told us they prefer us not to.”

Russell: “People respect us, I respect them. But if you don’t respect me, I won’t help you. That’s just the way it is.

Nobody bothers us, nobody harasses us and I like it that way. I’m not going to deny anybody water. I wasn’t brought up to be stingy, that’s not who I am.”

Read Day 2 here.

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Carl Segerstrom
Carl is a reporter-editor for RANGE Media. Previously, he was an assistant editor at High Country News.
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