Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Group representing community interests selects family trauma and violence as Spokane’s No. 1 priority to address

Patrick Jones, director of Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, presents voting results from Priority Spokane’s community assessment process on Tuesday, March 27. (Rachel Alexander / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s priority for the next five years will be reducing family trauma and violence.

A monthslong community assessment organized by the nonprofit Priority Spokane ended Tuesday with representatives from a broad group of government, private and nonprofit organizations selecting that goal from 17 possible options.

The second slot went to increasing access to substance abuse treatment, especially with co-occurring mental illnesses. The third most popular option was increasing affordable housing. Of about 130 people attending, 117 cast a vote.

The process is designed to focus on measurable metrics and is linked with Eastern Washington University’s community indicators project, which collects and presents local data on topics of interest to Spokane County, including poverty rates, affordable housing and greenhouse gas emissions.

Patrick Jones, director of EWU’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, which runs the website, urged community members voting on the goals to choose something on which a local effort could make an impact within about five years.

“We’re not trying to remake America. We’re trying to move the needle a little in Spokane,” Jones said.

The somewhat obscure process was behind the effort that significantly increased Spokane’s high school graduation rate starting in 2009. A second community assessment in 2013 focused on mental health, specifically stabilizing the lives of elementary and middle-school children who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

At Tuesday’s public assembly, attendees heard from committees on economic vitality, education, the environment, health, housing and transportation, and public safety that had met previously to discuss the most pressing issues facing Spokane.

Each group presented three things it believed Spokane should focus on over the next five years. Other suggestions included increasing wages and income, improving population density to reduce urban sprawl, developing housing together with transit systems and reducing suicide rates.

Mental health and poverty were themes that echoed through many proposals, whether focused on improving school outcomes or reducing crime.

“If we start addressing some of these things, kids are healthier. They’re more willing to come to school. They’re more willing to participate,” said Sara Clements-Sampson, Providence Health Care’s community benefits manager.

Participants included Todd Mielke, CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated; Bob Lutz, Spokane Regional Health District health officer; Mayor David Condon; police Chief Craig Meidl; and representatives from Providence, the Inland Northwest Community Foundation, Empire Health Foundation, Spokane Public Schools and local universities.

Several in attendance said they were frustrated by the lack of people of color in leadership positions during the process, especially since nearly every issue discussed disproportionately impacts people of color in Spokane.

“We missed an opportunity to address racial impact,” said Terri Anderson, the Spokane organizer for the Tenants Union of Washington State. Anderson, who is Asian-American, noted none of the goals presented mentioned racial equity, though several presenters did urge people to consider racial, gender and other disparities while working on them.

Ryan Oelrich, Priority Spokane director, said his organization approached people and organizations asking them to participate. He said a number of community groups representing people of color were asked, but he said the organization could do more next time to ask people what changes might lead them to participate.

“That is definitely something we want to work to address next time,” he said.

Through the process, Jones has added more data to the community indicators website. The hope is that each proposed goal has at least one metric tied to it so Spokane can track progress.

Representatives from a number of organizations, including the Kalispel Tribe’s Charitable Fund, the Inland Northwest Community Foundation and Multicare, which owns Rockwood, said they planned to use the full list of goals to inform decisions about grants and investment priorities over the next few years.

“Just because it’s not the top priority, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to get worked on,” Jones said.