Shawn Vestal: Amid homelessness crisis, city ignores millions for possible solution



The state distributed millions of dollars in September to help communities buy and quickly set up homeless shelters and affordable housing to offset the housing emergency.

The city of Vancouver has received more than $ 5 million to add 62 accommodation beds.

King County received $ 9 million to provide 84 shelter beds.

A West Side nonprofit has received more than $ 25 million for 161 permanent supportive housing units.

Spokane received zero dollars and added no beds to a visibly insufficient system. Neither the city government, nor the county government, nor any other government in that region has requested it.

This month, the state will distribute more than an additional $ 50 million to help communities quickly add shelter beds.

Spokane will once again receive zero dollars and will not add any beds, again not having asked for money to do so.

There will be no phase 3. So many other communities have requested the emergency fund created by the Legislative Assembly that there will not be any left after the second round.

So passes another chapter in our city’s homelessness saga, in which the state, inaction, dragging our feet and outright hostility to services have us frozen in place. We are entering another winter in a period of embarrassingly long winters in which we have far too few beds for thousands of homeless people.

It is a failure that we are just getting used to, as the mayor and downtown business class work on the service of a priority to prevent any new service downtown.

Just check the viaducts to see how it goes.

The state’s Commerce Department gives grants to communities to buy hotels or apartment buildings that could be quickly rehabilitated to put people in beds. The grants required a quick turnaround time of 90 days. Cities or non-profit organizations must manage operating costs in the future.

Mayor Nadine Woodward’s much-vaunted regional collaboration has produced no requests for these funds. It wouldn’t have been easy, necessarily, but other jurisdictions in the state have handled it and are benefiting from it. Surely there would be properties in this town, or in the Spokane Valley, or in the county in general, that would do the trick and help get more people out of the tarps and boxes pretty quickly.

Catholic Charities realized at the end of the summer that there was this opportunity and that it was not being exploited, so she made her own efforts to prepare an application. City council pledged $ 350,000 in support, but Woodward did not support it, several people said.

“The council was really supportive, while the mayor never did anything to help, due to understaffing and lack of care,” said Ben Stuckart, who heads the Spokane Low-Income Housing Coalition and was the opponent of Woodward in the 2019 election.

Council President Breean Beggs echoed this criticism.

“The mayor’s office, based on my conversations with members of the administration, did not support the request of Catholic Charities or the city funding it,” he said.

Catholic Charities’ proposal was not funded in the first round, and then the funding did not work for a candidacy in the second round. Rep. Marcus Riccelli, frustrated with inaction, tried to help rally a bid around another downtown hotel, but it was unsuccessful.

If the officials had acted early, and if someone in a key authority position had shown leadership, it is conceivable that we would add beds to help solve the problem. Instead, other communities will move people from the streets to shelters, while everyone here continues to complain about the overpass camps.

“It’s just a failure of leadership in our community,” said Riccelli.

The lack of housing – shelters and social housing – is an emergency. The mayor, through a combination of ideology and a city hall staff crisis, appears to be working on a timeline measured in light years.

Brian Coddington, the Mayor’s spokesperson, insists that this is an unfair characterization, and he points to several initiatives that have been part of the mayor’s overall plan – some of which I admit were steps positive. He noted that beds have been added to the system with the opening of a new bridge shelter, a young adult shelter and the new Hope House.

He also said Woodward supported Catholic Charities’ candidacy.

“Work has been done to support the demand and the resources identified” in the current proposed budget that would have provided support, had a request been successful, he said. This is the money the board approved to support the initial request.

In fairness, it’s important to note that Woodward budgeted for a new low-barrier booster shelter. This is the kind of project most likely to breach the tracks. It was, for me, an unforeseen and welcome development, and yet, as many workers in the homeless community have noted, it comes with a caveat that could be a poison pill: this cannot be in or near downtown.

Any new shelter is a good refuge, but so many other important services for the homeless can be found downtown. The idea of ​​simply bringing people together outside of the city center seems naïve to many who work with this population.

We need a real system, which identifies the extent of the problem and tries to deal with it through coordinated efforts. We need candid leadership on the problem and not invested in fantasies. We need someone who has the courage to bring partners together and put them into action, someone who has the courage – if it is to be seen like this – to persuade powerful interests opposed to the services that the housing crisis must be solved by the simplest and most effective solution. : lodging.



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