Spokane’s homeless will be asked Saturday to come to church.
But the goal is not to provide a sermon, although one probably could be made available. From noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Spokane city leaders are partnering with several state, federal and local organizations to offer a safe haven, food, clothing and possibly an avenue off the street for anyone who comes to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes at 1115 W. Riverside Ave.
“The city is organizing a homeless stand down at the cathedral,” said Bret Bowers, spokesman at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center. “The VA is supporting them by providing staffing. They will have food and clothing, and if they are veterans, we will try to enroll them.”
Shannon Dunkin, the clinical coordinator for the VA Health Care for Homeless Veterans, said Spokane is home to about 150 homeless vets among an estimated 1,200 others in Spokane who are homeless.
“The challenge is not all of them have connected with the VA for services,” Dunkin said. “We are partnering with the city to find out if any of the homeless are veterans so we can connect them with services.”
Dunkin’s office could be the first step for a homeless vet to find a home, mental health care, peer support and skills to get a new job, she said.
“Homeless veterans in particular are at five times greater risk of suicide than the general veteran population,” she said. “Housing is always a big need for us with our veterans. Having landlords who are willing to step up and give these vets a second chance at a home is something we desperately need.”
The effort is part of Mayor David Condon’s initiative to help connect those who are homelessness with services, said Tim Sigler, the senior manager of the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department.
“It really is events like this that make a difference in breaking the stigma of veterans and homelessness,” Sigler said. “We can have a group of providers and other veterans available willing to help get them into services or to just provide simple things like boots and coats if somebody needs them out on the street.”
The city is working to update its point-in-time count “to get a snapshot of the landscape of both the sheltered and unsheltered homeless population in Spokane,” he said. “When we get that information, we can analyze that data and look for trends and hopefully predict services and programs that can help support people experiencing homelessness off the street.”
The event Saturday will be the first to focus on veterans.
Mann-Grandstaff Director Robert Fischer said he appreciated being able to work with city and state officials to bring the event on Saturday.
“We are here today to publicly reaffirm our commitment to suicide prevention and helping end homelessness among veterans, families and those in need in our community,” Fischer said. “Together we are making a difference, but we cannot do it alone.”
Quinn Bastian, who is the chief of Mann-Grandstaff’s Behavioral Health Service, said anyone can help a veteran by offering their attention.
“Some of the saddest situations I have ever seen are when a veteran feels hopeless, hurting and alone,” Bastian said. “For those of you looking for a way to help, I encourage you to take this challenge: Be there. Be willing to be there for a friend, a family member or a veteran in need.”
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