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The executive director of Priority Spokane can point to charts and graphs showing the effect community health workers have had on reducing homelessness among local youth. But there’s also a sense of playfulness to the community building Oelrich’s done over the past decade and a half, after a conscious decision to remain in Spokane following his ties to the scandal involving former Mayor Jim West.
More than 100 families, and nearly 300 children, were either placed in housing or stabilized and prevented from becoming homeless as part of the program. Of those, 95 percent remain stable and housed today, based on monthly check-ins with community health workers.
Spokane’s priority for the next five years will be reducing family trauma and violence.
A report prepared by the Spokane Regional Health District goes a long way toward quantifying what happens to people “downstream” of homelessness: worse health across many measures, from high blood pressure to arthritis, and less access to care. This is true not only for people who are currently homeless – but for those who have ever been homeless. This adds a definite urgency to one of the report’s other conclusions: Too many of our city’s schoolkids are homeless or living in a kind of near-homeless limbo, teetering at the edge of lifelong consequences.
Spokane could shape the federal government’s approach to a more holistic type of public health. The city was one of five included in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Public Health 3.0” listening tour.
A study conducted by Eastern Washington University professors indicates that Spokane’s rate of youth homelessness is about 33 percent higher than the state average. Additionally, the study identifies a gap in services for homeless youth, who often aren’t living on the street but still experiencing tumultuous home lives, said lead author Tim Hilton.
A Gonzaga University study focused on dropout prevention starting in middle school suggests an early warning system for identifying potential dropouts, a bigger variety of academic opportunities and more rigor and additional funding for community-based social support programs. Some of the programs are already in place or in the works but need to grow, while others will take significant resources to establish, according to the report released this month.
Seventh- and eighth-graders are the focus of two local studies on improving Spokane Public Schools’ 61 percent graduation rate. Research on the topic has increased nationally because those grades are considered educators’ last, best chance to intervene before a student drops out.
Making middle school a better experience for Spokane students is one way to boost the high school graduation rate, which has slipped to 61 percent in Spokane Public Schools, a group of community volunteers says. Priority Spokane has raised $50,000 for a study next year of what works well for middle school students, in and out of the classroom. The research could lead to major changes at the two-year schools.