By Ami Manning
I grew up in poverty and housing insecurity. My family lost our home in a fire when I was 12, and as an adult I have worked with people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and family violence crises for more than 20 years. Here’s what I know: Criminalizing poverty and homelessness do not reduce homelessness and do nothing to address the housing crisis in Spokane.
This election has high stakes for our community. Measure 1, a sales tax for criminal justice purposes (primarily building a jail), and Property 1, an anti-camping ban, center advertising efforts on making Spokane safer. The underlying outcome, however, is less about safety and more about a strategy to house people who are homeless by way of arresting them for having no place to live and ensuring there is enough jail space to keep them there. Jail is not an effective housing plan. It is the most expensive, traumatizing, and ineffective approach to housing and safety.
Compare the housing costs per night:
• Jail, $134 (local costs in 2021)
• Shelter with services, $71 (national average in 2015 for a single person)
• Transitional housing, $76 (national average in 2015 for a single person)
• Permanent supportive housing, $89 (national average in 2015 for a single room. Supportive Housing offers ongoing programming for those who need it in order to live in stability.)
• Section 8 voucher payment for a one bedroom, $33 (from Spokane Housing Authority)
It’s clear that more jail cells is the wrong choice.
On your ballot:
Proposition 1, a camping ban that purports to protect children. It pushes our houseless neighbors away from services and into camping in neighborhoods. It does not reduce homelessness. It criminalizes people for existing without housing.
Measure 1, a $1.7 billion blank check to build a new jail without a plan. The information we have been given implies all the services that this measure could do, but lacks any commitment to do them.
Vote no on Proposition 1. Vote no on Measure 1.
These ballot issues do not address the housing needs of Spokane. The vacancy rate in our city over the past nine years has been under 3%. We have been featured in the New York Times in an article entitled “The next affordable city is already too expensive.” Our rents have risen 85% from 2014. HUD has a one-bedroom fair market rent in 2014 as $546 and next year’s will be listed as $1,012. According to the Spokane Home Builder’s Association, we are not keeping up with the supply. Spokane is falling behind in building housing by thousands of units a year, while the rhetoric is saying that people are refusing to go into shelter. The truth is our shelter system and our housing availability do not have enough beds to serve those who are homeless.
In my years working with people in crisis, I witnessed the reality that people can experience stability and growth. This begins with housing. After the fire, my family found housing and put our lives back together because of community support. It was because our community wrapped their arms around us that my family was able to quickly find and obtain housing. This was also possible because housing was available. Housing is becoming less available, and affordable housing is increasingly rare.
On Oct. 27, on the Shelter Me Spokane app, there were 75 beds. The Point in Time Count (an annual count of the houseless in our community conducted in January) indicates 3,000 people need shelter. Mental health and substance use treatment programs are overwhelmingly full and inaccessible.
We need housing, not jail. We need adequate mental health and substance use treatment. We need to address our city’s unaffordability crisis. Let’s work together in our community to address our growing city’s needs.
Ami Manning has worked in housing and homeless services for the past 22 years, currently at the ROW project at Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium. She serves on the Governor’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board and volunteers with the Spokane Alliance’s Housing Equity Action Research Team. She lives in West Central with her family.