A holistic approach to reducing homelessness is needed in the Spokane area, and a proposal to form a regional authority for that purpose is an idea worth investigating further.
Such an authority could be effective in addressing the wide range of issues facing the community’s most vulnerable populations. Elected leaders at all municipalities in the county should have an open-minded and collaborative approach when considering whether to participate in formation of the Spokane Regional Authority for Homelessness, Housing, Health & Safety.
Because, despite the best efforts of well-intentioned people in social services, the problem is getting worse. The countywide point-in-time count this year showed the number of homeless people in the Spokane area had risen by just over a third, an acceleration that compounds increases in previous years.
The Spokane Regional Collaborative, as it’s being called for now, looks to reverse that trend, with the aggressive goal of reducing the point-in-time count by 40% within two years, along with meeting other metrics. Doing so with a regional approach will require an unprecedented integration of services and resources that will need to occur in a matter of months, not years.
An analysis led by a trio of former city executives—Gavin Cooley, Rick Romero, and Theresa Sanders—shows the resources dedicated to homeless services are rich and deep, but they’re siloed in such a way that services aren’t coordinated, and log jams prevent people from getting needed services at times. Put more simply, it’s not a matter of a lack of funding; the issue is that those funds aren’t deployed as efficiently as they could be in a unified approach.
Sanders, the city administrator during former Mayor David Condon’s administration, says, “When people are coming into the system, is it because of an economic condition? Is it a behavioral health condition? Is it addiction? What’s the right thing and how do we apply the right service? Today, the system is not nuanced enough to address the challenge so you can have the expectation of getting somebody through the process.”
It would be easy for her comments to be taken as armchair quarterbacking. When Sanders and her colleagues talk about the new approach, however, they don’t give the impression of being critical of those who have been working on this issue, either at the administrative or street level. But they do appear to be convinced that a more efficient approach is possible if money and talent are pooled. And they’ve done their homework in terms of talking to a breadth of organizations and governmental departments, then coming up with interlocal agreements to make such a regional entity work.
As a business publication that for years now has heard the concerns and frustrations of property owners and businesspeople regarding the worsening homelessness crisis in our community, the Journal supports the notion of a new approach.
There’s no shortage of details to be worked out, and in developing a new, quasi-governmental agency, funding sustainability, transparency, and accountability will be essential to preserving private-sector support.
Early work on this massive endeavor is encouraging, though, and an integrated approach that can help people and improve overall quality of life is worth pursuing.
Having a broad effort that can meet certain metrics in addressing homelessness—and that can be held accountable when it falls short—is what the community needs at this time.
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