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Shawn Vestal: Threads of change

Patrick Malone, a longtime resident and neighborhood activist in West Central, is trying to get as many people as he can to buy something at one of two businesses, Indaba Coffeehouse and the Book Parlor, as a birthday present to himself on Friday. (Colin Mulvany)
Patrick Malone, a longtime resident and neighborhood activist in West Central, is trying to get as many people as he can to buy something at one of two businesses, Indaba Coffeehouse and the Book Parlor, as a birthday present to himself on Friday. (Colin Mulvany)

If you want to give Patrick Malone a nice present for his 60th birthday, buy something for yourself. A cup of coffee. A sandwich. A book.

He won’t mind. Malone, a longtime West Central resident and volunteer, is asking everyone he knows to celebrate his birthday today by supporting neighborhood businesses Indaba Coffeehouse and The Book Parlor, on the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue. It may feel like a small thing, but it’s not. A cup of coffee, a place to see neighbors, support for business close to home – these are the threads that help to connect neighborhoods, and they’re one expression of Malone’s longtime passion and project: building stability and community in West Central.

“We really have a lot of power and influence over the economic health of our community,” Malone said. “I’ve probably heard from a half-dozen or more folks who said, ‘I’m in. I’ll be there. I’ll make that commitment.’ ”

Malone and his wife, Connie, have lived in West Central for nearly 20 years, and they’ve been doing the heavy lifting of “community development” – battling poverty and its corrosive effects – for a long time. They started Project HOPE some seven years ago, in an effort to give opportunities to young people in the neighborhood. It’s grown to include a program that turns abandoned lots into community gardens, a neighborhood farmers market and other projects. They run a community development consultant business, and he’s on the faculty at Washington State University.

“It’s been a long journey over the last 19 years,” Malone said. “We are coming from a faith perspective, looking to find creative ways to use our skills to help the neighborhood.”

Patrick Malone grew up on the South Hill – not rich, but in a community of privilege compared to his current home, he said. As a young man, he became interested in community development and activism on behalf of impoverished, disadvantaged communities. He remembers a turning point when he was working on a housing survey as a college student.

“I could not believe in 1973, 1974, in Spokane, I could walk into homes in Peaceful Valley that had dirt floors, no indoor plumbing, no indoor heat source,” he said. “It just blew me away. … I always thought that poverty was someplace else.”

Twenty years ago, he and Connie were living in Eugene, Ore., working in a neighborhood similar to West Central. They were expecting their first child when his mother became ill, and that brought them back to Spokane.

They bought a home in West Central. There wasn’t much in the way of organized neighborhood improvement efforts at the time, he said; they got involved as volunteers. Early on, one of the first things they did was identify people in need and invite them to move in with them temporarily.

The home-sharing project grew into Jubilee Housing Ministries, which was targeted at buying and improving homes to provide decent rental properties, and encouraging middle-income people to move to West Central. A chief goal in building the community over the long term was to help stabilize the neighborhood’s essentially transient nature, he said.

A large majority of residents aren’t there for the long haul, whether they’re renting and looking to move away, or forced by financial difficulties to move a lot, or evicted, or arrested, or whatever.

“It’s just hugely difficult when people are moving so much, and transient so much, and feeling that, ‘I don’t have a stake here,’ ” he said.

Providing solid, affordable housing is one way to stabilize a neighborhood, he said. Another is through establishing and supporting local businesses – places that serve the needs of residents, provide jobs and gathering places, and keep people’s money in a community. Crucially, local businesses are often the places that young people can find work, learn job skills, discover opportunity.

Malone said that for many years he was committed to big change – trying for major policy shifts or “big-ticket” items. But he’s become more committed in recent years to the idea of an accumulation of small, individual acts.

Such as the buying and selling of a cup of coffee. So much of what constitutes a neighborhood – and so much of what neighborhoods that are hurting lack – can be seen in that cup of coffee. Beyond the economic effects are the social ones. Coffeehouses and similar businesses provide the “third places” between home and work that help knit communities together.

“It really is that space where people can connect,” said Bobby Enslow, owner of Indaba.

Like Malone, Enslow grew up in Spokane – in the Indian Trail neighborhood – and returned with the goal of helping West Central. He opened the coffee shop three years ago, and it was the only one in the neighborhood at the time. A few other businesses have been taking hold since, and he sees each one as a positive step for a place whose negatives are often the only things that people recognize.

“It’s been interesting to see how sometimes it takes someone to take that first step to get other people to be willing to do the same,” Enslow said.

A cup of coffee. A sandwich. A book. A gift to Malone, to the neighborhood, to yourself.

“We really need to be intentional and specific in terms of our investment decisions in the community,” Malone said. “It’s really up to us.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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