Spokane Homelessness Solutions

"As Mayor, I will prioritize this complex issue, working with real solutions to end homelessness in our city."

There is a clear choice in this election. What kind of community do we want?


Homelessness has dominated the headlines in cities on the west coast and has always been a divisive subject. Some will try and explain that if we offer any services, we are only going to attract people needing those services to our community. Alternately, others feel we can never do enough to help those in need. On all sides, opinions are strong, and misinformation is vast. However, we are making progress.

  • The number of chronically homeless individuals is down
  • We have doubled the number of young people in transitional housing
  • The number of families facing homelessness is down
  • We continue to see a decline in veteran homelessness

There are still plenty of challenges that remain, particularly reducing homelessness among single adults. This is a complicated topic that requires multiple approaches based on data, best practices and the compassionate values of our city.

We must recognize that addiction, untreated mental health conditions, post-traumatic stress, family violence and unforeseen emergencies are struggles that can’t be overcome unless families, neighbors and communities care about each other.

We focus so much on emergent actions instead of long-term solutions when it comes to homelessness. There is work happening right now in the City and in our community that I strongly support. There are new ideas and policies I will bring forward as your Mayor. There are also proposals out there that I do not support because they are not based on data, best practices or compassionate values. 


Short Term Solutions


Our shelter system needs to be open 24 hours a day and provide services for people staying there. Best practice is to have someone on site providing addiction, mental health and housing services. The Spokane Resource Center located on Second Avenue and Arthur is the model for one-stop assistance. That model should be emulated in our shelter system.

My opponent has repeatedly said she does not support new low-barrier shelters. Without low-barrier shelters, our public camping laws cannot be enforced. We must have adequate low-barrier shelter space to enforce ‘no camping on public lands’ laws under the recent Martin v. City of Boise 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. We should never support camping in our public areas when there are safe spaces with services and case managers ready to help get these citizens into housing.

The City of Spokane needs to actively end camping in our public parks and in river access areas. Camping in our parks and in river access areas is illegal. Most importantly, it is not safe for the citizens camping. It presents significant public health issues and is simply not a dignified solution to homelessness. There should be no need for camping in public parks with an adequate re-imagined shelter system and case managers getting these citizens into housing.

Public Safety


We must increase the number of police officers and mental health workers in the Community Diversion Unit. I have made it a priority to hire additional police in every budget I have presided over as City Council President because public safety continues to be the community’s top priority. We have added over 50 officers to the Police Force since 2014, and these officers are having an impact. We are seeing a reduction in crime including assaults, vehicle thefts, and sex crimes.

I sponsored the 2019 Public Safety Levy to continue reducing crime in our city and to help tackle some of the mental health issues we see downtown. It is why I am a strong supporter of the Community Diversion Unit that pairs an officer with a mental health worker to help our citizens in mental health crisis. This program is working and should be expanded. My opponent, while she likes the program has claimed that grants could expand the program. Many grants require good luck and the good fortune of being a program that fits neatly into grant opportunity. This program is too important to leave its future to the whims of grants.

We must not confuse homelessness with criminal behavior. They are not the same. There is no correlation between crime and homelessness. It is not a crime to be without a home. It is, however, a crime to rob, assault, openly consume alcohol or smoke marijuana, or commit burglary. These are laws enforced right now. We must make sure officers have the tools necessary to eliminate crime downtown and across the city. Importantly, we must empower officers to guide those who are vulnerable to improve the safety of those citizens, as well as the entire community.

An additional 20 officers will start in 2020 as a result of the public safety levy I sponsored in the spring of 2019. My opponent voted no on the public safety levy and made the comment “$5 million dollars is a drop in the bucket” when asked how she would pay for the new officers as Mayor. I wish her the best of luck in identifying that $5 million dollars without cutting critical city services (spoiler alert: she can't do it).
   
We must make alternative courts like Community Court permanent. The City of Spokane has an excellent Municipal Court system, but it can be even better. I have been a strong supporter of the Community Court. It has shown great success but needs permanent financial and policy commitment from City administration.  Our Municipal Court system should all be located together in a safe building where clients, Prosecutors, Public Defenders, and Judges can conduct court efficiently. We can accomplish this through a consolidation of the municipal court system with minimal investment that will save operating costs in the long run.  


Long Term Solutions


Without permanent housing, citizens in transitional housing have no place to go. Without availability in transitional housing, our residents stay on the streets. In 2018, 800 people in Spokane had housing vouchers yet could not find housing. A housing voucher is as good as cash in terms of housing. But 800 people sought help, did everything right, and still ended-up on our streets. Although on average about 50 units are built per year in Spokane for our chronically homeless population, there is very little affordable housing being built for working families or for our aging population. Furthermore, the city’s dangerously low vacancy rates have led to large increases in rent. This is a dangerous combination and the very definition of an affordable housing crisis.

The City’s recent Point-in-Time Count suggests that the lack of affordable housing is behind only family conflict and lack of income as the primary reason for unsheltered homelessness in our community.

We must work on affordable housing in two ways: by creating additional housing opportunities and by supporting affordable housing programs. We must fully implement the city’s Comprehensive Plan and fulfill the intent of the Growth Management Act. We are an urban center and as such, should have the zoning, design standards, and infrastructure capable sustaining dense development. Our Comprehensive Plan suggests we utilize our business centers and corridors to locate the coming growth. A great example is Monroe Street . The City recently invested in a safe and accessible North Monroe street that has proven to be a game changer for the neighborhood. We see businesses popping-up and new visitors to the shops. But the neighborhood lacks the density to sustain many of these businesses over the long-term. Increasing housing in this corridor will be better for business, better for public health and better for our environment. 

We need a local housing trust fund to help meet the demand for affordable housing in our community. The federal government has failed cities across America. In 1992, the City of Spokane received $1.4 million in federal HOME dollars. Last year, the City received just $1.2 million and will likely to see further cuts. Not only has affordable housing support from the federal government been reduced, inflation has decimated the buying power of the remaining dollars being provided. We cannot continue wasting time reviewing committee findings, or endless studies. We need to inject nearly $5 million per year into affordable housing in the city of Spokane to meet demand. If we do not, no matter how motivated people are to escape homelessness and poverty, they will struggle to find housing they can afford.   

We must create local jobs by building up local businesses. The lack of income or a job is one the biggest causes for unsheltered homelessness in our city. Spokane is a community that suffers from a high level of generational poverty. The City has prioritized raising the median household income of its citizens. We can do that by supporting the skill development of new workers through apprenticeship programs such as the Head Start to the Construction Trades. We should support our business organizations such as the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance that help local businesses to grow the right way. We need to ensure that Spokane is a city that offers opportunities for people to work. We may never recover the manufacturing jobs we lost in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but we can continue building a 21st century economy by building up our local business districts, eliminating barriers to business growth, investing in our public development authorities and investing in the workers that make our city able to compete against any place.


We don’t need soundbites. 

We need to fight misinformation.  

We need action.

The choice is clear. The "tough love" approach of Woodward really means "tough luck" for you and your neighbors. We need the shelter space to enforce our laws. We need the officers and mental health teams to help the families on our streets. And, we need a Mayor that believes in data and executes the best practices.

As Mayor, I will prioritize this complex issue, working with real solutions to end homelessness in our city.

Thank you for your support,

Ben

photo credit Matt Collamer