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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Barbara Weber, Ph.D.: The unheard voices of the homeless

By Barbara Weber, Ph.D.

By Barbara Weber, Ph.D.

Spokane city’s response to the homeless is myopic, callous, thoughtless, uncaring and borders on criminal. Laws and various strategies to move the homeless out of sight have done nothing but placate those that have no understanding of or compassion for the homeless. Police move people from the parks, the sidewalks and underpasses. The no-sit-lie bill and placement of rocks are techniques to prevent the homeless from resting. Where does the city expect those that have no place to go … to go?

Theresa M. wrote on the Facebook page of Julie Garcia, of Jewels Helping Hands: “This morning I was criticized by a city employee for handing my breakfast, a banana, to someone less fortunate … The employee said something along the lines of enabling … My response ‘kindness is free, by feeding him I did not enable him to do anything more than live with a smile …’ He told me that I was what is wrong with the city. My response ‘have you ever experienced hardship or does the silver spoon still rest in your cereal bowl …?’ ”

Localla wrote on Garcia’s Facebook: “Spokane city is doing sweeps along the river by felts field. Tossing everything. There’s a woman with lupus that can’t walk and another woman that just lost her son and is in mourning. These people aren’t thieves. They don’t bother anyone. But it just doesn’t matter.”

Dana W. tweeted: “Y’all don’t be bothered enough by homelessness for me. The reason many folks aren’t moved to stand up and raise their voices for housing justice, to end homelessness in a country with ample resources, is because capitalism has them convinced that both poverty and homelessness indicate character flaws …”

Rest in peace Michael Wesley Collins. He took his own life in November 2018. Before his death he wrote: “Taking a journey through being homeless and penniless has given me a new perspective on what hardships homeless people endure. Once you’re in it, it’s very, very difficult to escape … For example, you can’t get a job because you’re homeless and you’re homeless because you can’t get a job. Imagine having no car, being filthy and trying to show up to a job interview …? Welfare amounts to almost nothing, not even enough to buy food, let alone establish an apartment or residence, and it’s quite difficult to get as well, and the system is unforgiving for missed appointments, which can happen quite easily when you don’t have a home or money for transportation …”

Currently Spokane relies upon nonprofits to help those on the street. The army of volunteers and the nonprofit organizations are overwhelmed and cannot offer services for every individual who ends up homeless.

Danni wrote (in a letter to the civic leaders): “No shelter beds, unbearable heat, hunger, thirst, police sweeps, unbearable heat. This folks (sic) is creating the perfect storm of chaos. How far can people be beat down because you think they should deserve this.. This is not how people should treat others. Have our hearts hardened to the point of inhumane. If we punished everyone until death for what they have done, would you be ok? I wouldn’t, that’s for sure. It’s 104 degrees and I am exhausted, so I really don’t care to hear how they (the homeless) deserve this. Because even though I dislike you … I would bring you a glass of water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you were baking in the sun and hungry …”

With the exception of 2020, the city of Spokane does what is called a Point in Time Count of the homeless living on the street. Volunteers ask various questions including why they ended up homeless. Family conflict and lack of income are the two largest reasons. Most are not addicted when they become homeless, but without a home, nothing to eat, and no emotional support, drugs offer a way to cope. As one homeless person put it, “If I only had money to purchase one McDonald’s meal or drugs, I would purchase drugs because when it was time to eat again, I wouldn’t notice the hunger.”

The homeless are made up of the chronically mentally ill, teens aged out of foster care, those kicked out of or running from an abusive home and women with small children (mostly of color) fleeing domestic violence. Veterans along with those on disability. And finally, those who are working and cannot afford housing are on the street. Yes, many homeless have jobs but don’t earn enough for housing!

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, on any given day at least 200,000 children are homeless. Many of these children have suffered abuse and can be further traumatized by being homeless, which results in a cycle that is costly to both individuals and communities. More than 90% of sheltered and low-income mothers have experienced physical and sexual assault over their lifetime.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an effective crisis response involves a housing-first approach. What city officials fail to understand is that helping the homeless by making available shelter, food, clothing and mental health services is the fastest way to get them into jobs. They then become productive members of the city, working, purchasing from our businesses, eventually paying rent and paying taxes.

We need action now! We need to find housing now! Small furnished apartments in vacated buildings, tiny houses, etc., can be used. If not, the cost to the city will rise, disturb downtown businesses and divert our police to nonpolicing duties! We need our voices to be heard!

Spokane resident Barbara Weber, educational psychology Ph.D., is author of “The Tiger in the Yard,” a story about living with life-long complex PTSD. Weber is no stranger to how trauma can lead to homelessness and drug addiction because of her experience with physical, sexual and psychological trauma.

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