EHF President: Time Is Now For Urgent Action On Spokane-Area Homelessness
By Empire Health Foundation
Jul 5, 2022
EHF Director of Communications & Storytelling
Empire Health Foundation President Zeke Smith says when it comes to homelessness in the Spokane region, “We have not responded effectively to the growing human tragedy around us.”
In the below editorial, published July 3, 2022 in the Spokesman-Review, Smith argues the time is now for urgent action by elected officials to fund “a comprehensive, integrated plan that addresses the real issues homelessness creates for our residents.”
The editorial follows a set of recommendations sent June 27, 2022 to city and county officials by a group convened by EHF over more than two months of collaborative meetings. See the full set of spending recommendations for nearly $90 million in federal and state funds here.
A Blueprint For Hope
By Zeke Smith, EHF President
As of June 24, there were more than 550 people living in Camp Hope, the small tent city on state highway lands on East Second Avenue. According to state officials, this makes it the largest homeless encampment currently in all of Washington. This is the same encampment that began as an organized protest over the closing of a shelter in Spokane a little over a year ago with less than 100 people involved.
Camp Hope’s growth is a direct statement about our community’s inability to address the realities of homelessness.
More individuals and families have been pushed out of stable, affordable housing, less shelter capacity is available, and people are dying on our streets. We have not responded effectively to the growing human tragedy around us.
This encampment also represents hope, as indicated by the name. What began as a protest has transformed into an act of resilience. The residents have formed their own leadership council, and actively work to create as safe a place as possible. While local leaders have expressed concern about rising crime in the community surrounding Camp Hope, it hasn’t really risen at a rate higher than other parts of Spokane.
A small city, almost the size of Fairfield, has sprung up in the middle of Spokane.
RELATED: “Reason For Hope On Homelessness, If Leaders Can Seize The Moment” (By Shawn Vestal, Spokesman-Review)
It’s clear these community members aspire to the basic needs the rest of us enjoy – a safe place to sleep, eat and go to the bathroom; shelter and protection from the weather; and a sense of community.
How can we not do everything at our disposal to help them access the safety and sustainable housing we all have a right to?
This is not a new issue, even though the current environment has increased the size and scope of the problem. For years local governments, social service providers, and business community members have struggled with providing services that can move people from homelessness to safety and stability.
Paying for and delivering the services and housing that best meet people’s needs have constantly been barriers to sustainable change. But money’s not the problem now. With more than $208 million of Federal American Rescue Plan funds at the discretion of local governments across Spokane County and another $25 million in one-time funds from the Washington Department of Commerce to support moving residents of Camp Hope into more permanent and stable housing, our local leaders have access to more money than in any other time in recent memory.
We also know what services our homeless neighbors really need to move to more stable and permanent housing. In April the Empire Health Foundation convened almost 40 Spokane experts that know first-hand what is and isn’t working in our system of homeless services.
These participants crossed function, sector, jurisdiction – housing and health providers, outreach workers, representatives of Hello for Good and the business community, local government staffers and private philanthropy. We all came together to consider how we can take effective action in this unique moment.
This group identified and prioritized the services our local governments should fund with these new federal and state dollars currently at their disposal. It’s what we know works: increased outreach and case management, basics like bathrooms and water and trash cans, mental health and substance use services, creative transitional housing options like pallet homes, and securing over 1,000 new units of permanent sustainable housing. We can do these things right now to transform our region.
What does it take to deliver on this promise? The courage and collaboration of our elected leaders at the city of Spokane, Spokane County, and other local cities in the region to fund a comprehensive, integrated plan that addresses the real issues homelessness creates for our residents.
We have the blueprint.
We’re ready to get to work.
The 550-plus residents of Camp Hope can’t wait. As The Spokesman-Review’s Shawn Vestal noted in his June 29 column, “the solutions have to come from the community itself.” If you want to see a real difference in the way homelessness affects all of us, let your local elected officials know it’s important and urgent. Suggest they use these one-time funds now.
The need and the opportunity have never been greater.