By Edie Rice-Sauer
I have always been interested in solutions to homelessness, so I have been baffled by the responses to Camp Hope that I’ve seen.
Much to their credit, the state of Washington and Department of Commerce has stepped up in a big way and released millions of dollars into our community to address the less-than-surprising emerging houseless population. We know Spokane’s not alone in this homelessness issue, but Commerce recognized the need for right-of-way funds and has responded.
But our local response? We sent in the troops. And why would the East Spokane Business Association spend thousands of dollars on several main news frontpage strip ads, each one just about $1,000? Would not these funds be better spent on solutions to relocate people – like buying “welcome home” baskets for these folks filled with housing essentials, such as toilet paper and toothpaste (things that food stamps/EBT won’t pay for); or buy some wood for the camp; gloves and hats for people to stay warm; thank-you gifts to the many staff who have worked tirelessly to get people out of the camp. Or they might have helped fund housing expenses to directly move persons from the camp, such as contributing to the first month’s rent for someone.
Or better yet, I notice one of the ESBA board officers works for a local high-barrier shelter. Maybe a good solution would be for that shelter to minimize those barriers, thus moving people with special needs, such as substance abuse, out of the camp and into shelter. That seems like a reasonable solution, even if for a short time.
Perhaps the funds spent on these ads could be used to thank the staff at Compassionate Addiction Treatment, Revive, Jewels Helping Hands, Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium and Empire Health for their difficult, cold work getting people a place to stay. They have done an incredible job in just a few months, responding to the multiplicity of issues that houseless folks bring to the table, besides the mere lack of housing. The reason someone finds themselves in this houseless predicament might include economic challenges, mental health issues, substance use, a past felony that limits housing options, domestic violence, aging out of foster care. There is no one reality, so these service providers have to be very creative in a very tight housing market. We know from the 2022 Point in Time Count that “in Spokane, average housing sales and rent have both nearly doubled over the last 10 years.” So any kind of housing is tough to locate. The vacancy rate is less than 1%.
Perhaps they could use their funds to create a heated space for people to get IDs. Or follow the work of the Smith-Barbieri Progressive fund and provide legal support to protect the rights of campers and service providers on-site by preventing the unlawful removal of the camp.
Words matter. Critique and condemnation without solutions are empty. Similar to the phrase “we make homelessness comfortable” by our esteemed mayor, words such as these and “Camp Hope must close” are merely empty negative gestures with no real solution. Eckhart Tolle, in his amazing book “A New Earth” talks about words in this way: “The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your reality becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around you. In this way, cleverness may be gained, but wisdom is lost.”
We can do better than making word noise.
Edie Rice-Sauer, of Spokane, has served persons negatively affected by violence and capitalism for the past 50 years.