A government that tackles a problem is going to draw a lot of attention to that problem. Prior to 2009, health care didn’t generate the headlines it does now. Nonetheless, it had to be addressed.
And so it is with the homeless issue. The city of Spokane has joined with Catholic Charities and other nonprofits to try to bring about a long-term solution. Spokane County says it would like to help more, but it’s tapped out. Spokane Valley shrugs, saying it’s a Spokane problem.
No city has figured this out, but they should try. Some of the suggested solutions are from cities such as Seattle and Portland, both of which still have significant controversies. Olympia just lost a winter warming center for lack of funds.
Spokane has been through that struggle. The City Council approved an extra $500,000 so House of Charity could restart round-the-clock operations this year. It also budgeted $1.1 million for the shelter system next year.
But because the city is making an effort, it is also drawing attention and criticism. The frustrating aspect of this truism is that it tends to obscure the overall mission and the accomplishments.
The rocks dumped under the freeway in downtown Spokane provide an example. To those not aware of the big picture, it looked like an isolated incident – a heartless effort to shoo the homeless along. In fact, it was part of a larger effort to get the homeless into Spokane shelters and housing, and from there, to get them connected to needed services. It was also a reaction to the legitimate complaints from surrounding businesses and Lewis and Clark High School. The setting was not safe.
The communication gaffe that occurred with the city’s video didn’t help, but that mistake has been acknowledged.
To date, the intractable part of the problem is what to do when the homeless reject housing, temporary or otherwise. Spokane’s strategy is based on housing (“Housing First”) and making the streets safer.
In the same city that dumped the rocks, here are some noteworthy developments you may have forgotten or never heard about.
The city recently housed 102 young homeless people in 100 days, with the help of organizations such as SNAP, Catholic Charities and Excelsior Youth Center. The city hopes efforts like these will help it land a transitional center for young people who shun shelters for a variety of reasons.
Catholic Charities is building 316 apartments for the homeless, the elderly and struggling families on land east of Spokane Falls Community College. It has already built four other apartment complexes for homeless people. The Pope Francis Haven apartments for the homeless were recently completed in Spokane Valley. Yes, Spokane Valley, you have homeless people.
Homelessness is a difficult issue that requires a compassionate response. But it also creates public safety and nuisance problems that cannot be ignored. It’s naive to think the problem will go away if services are withheld.
Spokane is making a good-faith effort, as it should.
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