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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lerria Schuh: Helping Camp Hope residents find stability takes time and effort

Lerria Schuh

By Lerria Schuh

The sheriff has announced a Nov. 10 deadline to clear out Camp Hope. He says he can place everyone in a more humane situation at local shelters and receive services. Why shouldn’t it be done immediately?

According to a recent survey, 443 folks live at Camp Hope. A long-standing challenge has been an inadequate number of available shelter beds in the greater Spokane region.

What about the new Trent shelter that accommodates 250 guests and, if necessary, 400-plus spaces? Recent night counts have been just over 150 persons at the Trent shelter, leaving only 250 open spaces. Those spaces are floors mats only (not enough beds), and spaced within a few feet of each other offering no privacy or security. There is no running water (only porta potties), no on-site services and no space to store all personal belongings.

Besides not having enough shelter space to accommodate everyone at Camp Hope, it is critical to recognize that shelters are not appropriate solutions for everyone. A Camp Hope survey last spring revealed the majority of residents would not go to a shelter. Many houseless individuals have concern about personal safety in shelters because of past trauma (particularly when the number of guests is high and no personal space provided). Some need medical assistance shelters don’t have the capacity or skill to manage. Some folks want to be with their partner or family, and many shelters take only singles (meaning if you are a couple or family you cannot stay).

No one, not even the sheriff, can force an individual to a shelter. If the sheriff clears out Camp Hope, some folks will walk away to pitch their tent in a park, roadside, alley or neighborhood. For those who accept a ride to a shelter, nothing requires them to check-in or stay. If all 400-plus people go to a shelter when the sheriff requests it, they don’t have to check-in and can check-out the next day.

What’s the alternative? The state of Washington is providing more than $24 million for housing and services for Camp Hope residents to ensure they are moved to transitional housing with support for a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. The process must include services and permanent supportive housing, not shelters. This will take time. It is this time that the sheriff is unwilling to allow.

Why does it take time? Why can’t the state pick up folks and drive them to housing? First, housing must be available. With the amount of funding the state is providing, several options will initially house a few hundred folks with beds, running water, access to food, transportation, services specific to individual needs, etc and should be available for move-in within about a month. Knowing that space for 400-plus is needed, additional plans are in the works. But with a less than 1% available occupancy rate in Spokane, it is taking time to find enough housing units.

The most fundamental step to getting folks housing ready is securing proper paperwork. Only two of the Camp Hope residents interviewed last spring indicated they have necessary identification to apply for housing (state identification and social security cards, both of which require a birth certificate). Cash and a current address are necessary to apply for these documents. Houseless folks typically don’t have either. The state is willing to provide funding to ensure Camp Hope residents get the documents they need, and the sheriff’s plan does not.

Currently, city-operated shelters do not provide services. However, service providers are at Camp Hope daily and offer medical treatment, mental health assistance, substance-use disorder treatment, assistance in securing identification, meals, clothing and more.

In addition to housing, the state is willing to fund continued resources to accommodate individual needs to help ensure success. Camp Hope residents won’t be dropped off at housing and forgotten, they will have peer navigators and support systems to help them through to the next steps of building their lives and staying housed while simultaneously lowering the houseless population. The sheriff’s plan is to drop off folks at shelters, with no follow-up plan or funding to support them. The sheriff’s plan will do nothing to lower the houseless population.

What do the residents of Camp Hope and community of Spokane deserve? Reduction of the houseless population into housing, not shelters, and services to match individual needs to ensure folks stay housed. The state is willing to pay for it. The sheriff should get out of the way.

Lerria Schuh, of Spokane, is executive director of the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund and secretary/treasurer of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.

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