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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mandatory overnight rule at Spokane’s Union Gospel Mission concerns some advocates for the homeless

Some homeless people in Spokane are concerned about changes restricting access to services at the Union Gospel Mission men’s shelter, advocates for the homeless say.

In November, UGM began requiring men to spend the night at the shelter in order to receive meals, clothing and other services. Previously, those services were available to anyone who walked in the door but didn’t want to stay.

Dave Wall, Union Gospel Mission’s director of community engagement, said the change was made to have a consistent policy across UGM shelters, and to give the nonprofit a chance to build relationships with people who come in seeking shelter.

“Handing a guy a shirt or socks or something is what we want to do, but in the context of helping them with the reasons that are really at the core of why they’re homeless,” Wall said. “If we don’t have that opportunity to even engage with them, we can’t really help them.”

Chronically homeless people who want to stay outside were also leaving clothes along the riverbank where they were sleeping, Wall said.

UGM has the same policies in place at its other shelters, Wall said. If people don’t like the rules, they can get showers, clothing and food at other places in town, including the House of Charity.

“There’s a handful of individuals who don’t like those changes, so they’ve said, ‘We’re going to go somewhere else,’ ” he said. But many clients said they like the new approach.

The shelter is also requiring some type of photo ID to track who’s receiving meals and other services, Wall said. Clients can bring anything with their name and photo on it. UGM will then put a barcode on it so they can scan people in and track who’s receiving which services.

Wall said names are kept confidential unless police come to the shelter looking for a suspect or someone they want to talk to for an investigation.

Since the policy shift, workers at Spokane’s Homeless Coalition have heard concerns from several chronically homeless people, coalition chairman Ryan Oelrich said. They’re worried about the already crowded House of Charity becoming full of people who can no longer get services during the day at UGM.

If that’s what’s happening, “that means some other organizations are going to have to step up,” Oelrich said.

The Homeless Coalition plans to meet with UGM in March to better understand the new policies and the reasons behind them.

“We hope to at that time have a good dialogue and just better understand their thoughts,” Oelrich said.

Many organizations serving homeless people in Spokane take a housing-first approach, rooted in the idea that it’s easier to deal with underlying problems like drug addiction and mental illness when someone has a roof over their head. Catholic Charities, which operates the House of Charity, has been rapidly building apartments to house chronically homeless people.

UGM takes a different approach, believing a person needs to have their emotional and spiritual needs met to move beyond homelessness. The mission concentrates on shelter and food first, but believes people need to work through other problems, too.

“You can’t address anybody’s emotional and spiritual needs unless you meet their physical needs first. If somebody’s hungry they’re not going to listen to you about anything else,” Wall said.

“We want to get to a place where we can talk about your spiritual and emotional needs as well.”