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Spokane mayor, council candidates debate homelessness, downtown crime

UPDATED: Wed., June 26, 2019

Candidates for Spokane mayor, from left, Jonathan Bingle, Kelly P. Cruz, Shawn Poole, Ben Stuckart and Nadine Woodward, talk about the issues during the League of Women Voters candidate forum at City Hall on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Candidates for Spokane mayor, from left, Jonathan Bingle, Kelly P. Cruz, Shawn Poole, Ben Stuckart and Nadine Woodward, talk about the issues during the League of Women Voters candidate forum at City Hall on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

All five candidates for mayor shared a stage for the first time Tuesday, disagreeing on homelessness, affordable housing and how to improve safety downtown.

Every candidate said they would like to see more investment in public safety, with City Council President Ben Stuckart calling for more resource officers and former TV anchor Nadine Woodward calling for a police precinct to be moved from the Spokane Intermodal Center to the heart of downtown.

Woodward and Spokane firefighter Shawn Poole said crime in downtown Spokane was out of control, and the city needs to enforce its laws and take a hard stance against crime and homelessness for the area to be safe.

“If we make it extremely uncomfortable to be homeless in Spokane, I think the crime will go down,” Poole said.

Poole contended if the city makes it difficult to be homeless, the people who truly don’t need help will leave the city and those who are homeless because of job loss or other issues can get the services they need.

Candidates Kelly Cruz, Jonathan Bingle and Woodward said addiction is the primary cause of homelessness, and solving the issue starts with treatment.

Woodward also said drug treatment should be mandatory, and the city’s current approach was not compassionate in the long term. She said many people are committing crimes to fuel addiction, and those who are homeless and are arrested should have to choose between jail and treatment.

“That’s where we need to be as a society, is getting people off of drugs,” she said. “We can no longer continue to warehouse people and hand out sandwiches. That is not compassion.”

Cruz said the best way to reduce homelessness and drugs is to increase policing of drug crimes so drugs wouldn’t be available. He said the city should start by enforcing the laws already on the books.

Bingle suggested cutting 1% of city spending and using that money to pay for drug treatment. He said more money for drug treatment was an upstream solution to downtown crime and homelessness.

“It’s helping with property crime rates and helping with our homeless problem,” Bingle said, “not just by putting a Band-Aid on it. What we’re actually doing is finding solutions for the people who are hurting and broken in this city.”

Stuckart, citing recent countywide homeless data, said the most common causes of homelessness aren’t drugs but lack of affordable housing and income. He said the best way to reduce homelessness is to ensure there is enough housing for people who have U.S. Housing and Urban Development vouchers to pay for a place to live. However, he said, there isn’t an available house or apartment on which they can spend the vouchers.

Stuckart also said forcing the homeless into drug treatment could go against a recent court decision that bars cities from arresting homeless people for camping outside because they don’t have anywhere else to go. He said requiring every homeless person to take a drug test before receiving services could turn the city’s park system into a homeless camp.

“If we want Riverfront Park or Manito to be a giant campground, then we can start forcing drug tests on people,” he said.

Many of the top officials in the current administration have left City Hall or will leave before Mayor David Condon’s term ends. Cruz, Stuckart and Poole said they would like to promote officials from within the city to replace them when possible, and Bingle said he also hoped to increase diversity in the city’s leadership.

Woodward said she would like to hire city department leaders who agree with her vision, increasing public safety without raising taxes.

Most candidates said the city should work toward fiscal responsibility. Cruz contended the city should look at the “six-figure club,” saying the city is too top-heavy and should study how many employees make more than $110,000. Poole said the city should start by eliminating waste and abuse, and both he and Woodward argued the city should hire more police officers without raising taxes.

Stuckart said the city has been fiscally responsible when the economy has been doing well. He said the city should look to give young people opportunities, like the summer free bus program.

Council candidates

Also Tuesday, seven Spokane City Council candidates shared their ideas. All are running for the seat of outgoing District 1 Councilman Mike Fagan.

The candidates are Jerrall Haynes, Spokane Public Schools board vice president; bus driver Doug Salter; Naghmana Sherazi, who works in diversity and inclusion at Gonzaga University; Krys Brown, a resident adviser at Union Gospel Mission; Michael Cathcart, executive director of conservative pro-business political action group Better Spokane; Louis Lefebvre, a Spokane dispatcher; and Tim Benn, who owns a child care business with his wife and co-hosts a radio show with Fagan.

The candidates agreed that homelessness, housing and property crime are important issues and said they hope to make District 1 – the district with some of the city’s poorest areas – a priority when it comes to paving unpaved roads and fixing streets.

Brown said she works the night shift at her job and often feels scared when she’s walking to her car. She said she rarely sees police officers out during the graveyard shift and she hopes to increase police presence at all hours in the district.

Cathcart said he wanted to focus on making sure people who should be in jail stay there. He said he would also like to cut fees and reduce lot-size standards so more housing can be built.

Haynes said he had heard from many constituents that they are concerned about property crime, but he would also like to make sure people in District 1 have the same economic opportunities as people in other parts of the city. He said he hopes to grow the public development authority and attract business.

Lefebvre said as a dispatcher, he heard calls about frostbite and would like to see warming shelters or something else set up for the homeless before winter. He also said the city should consider changing zoning so more housing can be built. He said he would like to see more mental health professionals riding along with police officers so mental health or drug issues can be addressed when law enforcement comes into contact with people.

Salter said he hopes to focus on roads, claiming his own was a century old and was only paved a few weeks ago. He said he also hopes the city will do more with the open lots it owns or change zoning laws so more housing can be built.

Sherazi said she hopes to focus on affordable housing because the rental vacancy in Spokane is so low. She said she is a single mom who has rented for years and has met many older people who are on a fixed incomes and can’t afford to move if their rents go up. She also said homelessness isn’t necessarily a choice, and she supported the city’s community court, where people charged with misdemeanors can get services.

Benn said last winter that the City Council “apparently forgot about homelessness.” He said the council should do a better job with services before it gets cold. Benn said he also would like to make District 1 streets a priority and find ways to incentivize building, so there are enough homes to meet the huge housing demand.

The forum was one of two to be hosted by the Spokane League of Women Voters. The second forum is at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Spokane City Hall Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Spokane City Council president candidates will speak at the forum as well as other council candidates.

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