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Opinion

Community tackles homelessness

As the homeless population is aware, another bone-chilling winter is on the way. But the city of Spokane has prepared a compassionate response.

Overnight shelters will be open all winter, regardless of the temperature.

“No one, no one should sleep outside. We’re better than that,” said Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities.

We certainly want to be, but it has been a challenge. Before the change, the homeless had to wait until the thermometer dipped below freezing before they had a place to warm up. This made for some cold, miserable nights.

But the community is in the midst of a robust response to the problem of homelessness, and keeping the shelters open continuously is part of the plan. For now, there is only enough money to provide overnight shelters seasonally.

The House of Charity, 32 W. Pacific Ave., will be open for individuals and couples. The Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave., will be available for families.

The city hopes to raise the $1.4 million needed to keep shelters open nonstop. It’s currently identified $780,000 in funding. The city has tapped its budget and state funds for some of the increased shelter funding, and the rest has come from nonprofits, such as Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and Transitions. Businesses and other groups are being solicited for contributions.

This is not only a compassionate response, it’s fiscally wise. Nights on the streets can lead to health care issues or trips to jail. The per-day shelter cost for an individual is $14, compared to $140 at the jail, or thousands at a hospital.

In January, the House of Charity had to limit its daytime hours, closing at noon, and the police reported more homeless encampments.

In April, the House of Charity faced a $570,000 budget deficit and said if it didn’t get financial help, it could only stay open one hour a day before reopening at night as a shelter.

That alarm bell awakened local leaders.

Progress on the emergency shelter front comes in the midst of Catholic Charities’ construction of long-term housing units around the city. The goal of this $60 million project is to provide housing for the roughly 360 chronically homeless people in Spokane. Housing is being built in Walla Walla and Othello, too.

The idea, called Housing First, has been proven to be successful in Utah. Each building site will have support services to help people reintegrate into society.

The construction boom, to be completed by 2020, was kick-started by a federal tax credit that encourages investment in low-income housing. The city of Spokane and Spokane County have also contributed money.

Once construction is completed, the pressure on emergency shelters should abate.

But in the meantime, a warm place will be available this winter, thanks to an effective partnership between government and nonprofits.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”


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