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Pia Hansen: Relocation crisis over, but work remains

Somehow the community absorbed almost all the residents from the Otis Hotel, the Commercial Building and the New Madison.

Paranoia abounds when it comes to where the sex offenders went – like they somehow no longer are under community supervision, or never left the Otis while living there.

The good news is that residents with disabilities, frail futures and not much potential for taking care of themselves found places to live through the herculean efforts of social workers.

Some residents will move around a bit. Some will find better places in a little while, others will get kicked out of their new places for various reasons more or less within their control.

Through this process, which has lasted all summer and nearly all fall, building owners did show flexibility in the middle of the confusion. I mean, how would you feel if you bought a house and the people who lived there didn’t move out for half a year after you signed the papers? And you had building crews waiting to tackle this new property of yours?

The city stepped up to the plate, allocating $250,000 – most of which astonishingly enough is still sitting in an account at City Hall. Let’s not forget that the money is there.

So here we are right before Thanksgiving, the immediate crisis is over and the weather is still mild, so all is well. Yet I’m left wondering if anything really has changed when seen from a homeless or a low-income housing dweller’s perspective.

After all the polemics, the speeches, the election, the protests, the meetings, the e-mails, the phone calls – there isn’t a lot of real lasting change to report.

Of course, you’ve got to begin somewhere and begin we did – but can we please continue? The final Affordable Housing Task Force meeting is Tuesday at City Hall, but I don’t think we are done yet.

The people on the task force have done a good job. The honesty, the willingness to show up, the respect for each other’s incredibly different paradigms and situations were definitely there – there were moments of dialogue. But this community is not done dealing with low-income housing just because we issued a report analyzing the issue.

We haven’t passed a housing ordinance; we should and it should be countywide.

One was batted around for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. You know it, I know it – until something is on the books, nothing is really going to change. It’s possible to write and pass an ordinance that will accommodate the residents in apartment buildings – say, give them three months, if needed, to find a new place to live after the sale of their building. And it’s possible for the same ordinance to exclude smaller buildings from regulations, the mom-and-pop-owned duplexes and triplexes some people rely on for extra retirement income and investment.

And a tent city is not the solution – not even a really nice tent city. Hello, folks, we don’t live in Hawaii where you can crash on the beach all year round. We live in a place where it gets flipping cold in winter. We’ve just been lucky with the weather this year.

From a social services perspective, a tent city is not solving any problems. Yet there’s great potential for it to go the other way. I’m trying to embrace the fact that the current tent city is a protest of sorts. OK, that’s fine, but it’s also already been deemed a chronic nuisance by the resource officer in the neighborhood.

Tent cities are attractive to some people because they are largely unregulated. Shelters have rules you have to adhere to if you want a place to sleep. That’s hardly inhumane, but it’s a well-known fact that some people are very difficult to place. Some shelters take women, but not children. Some take only men. Some take teens, but no adults. Few take couples or whole families. And then there’s the preaching and the prayer in some places, and the companion animals. I can see why a tent city is appealing if you have a tent that’s large and warm enough for yourself and your family.

But a tent city is no lasting solution.

Don’t let the summer and fall of ‘07 turn into “that year when they emptied the Otis.” Instead, let it turn into the time when Spokane began to look in earnest at low-income housing solutions for everyone. Let the housing task force’s report serve as a building block, a first step in the right direction – not as a monument to an unfinished effort.