Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

Good neighbor agreements should be standard for city

It’s good to see the Spokane City Council discussing a good neighbor agreement with a homeless services provider.

It should become standard practice, as some members of the business community have been calling for such agreements for years.

Bringing the issue to the forefront now is the Salvation Army Spokane’s planned Way Out Shelter, which will provide bridge housing for candidates deemed most likely able to transition to permanent housing. The shelter is located at 55 W. Mission, in the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood.

In this case, Councilwoman Karen Stratton has led the call for a good neighbor agreement to ensure neighbors and businesses have a voice and that they’ll be heard if problems arise. The council is expected to revisit the issue next week.

The neighborhood’s concern isn’t so much the Salvation Army’s bridge housing, but about uncertainties regarding whether a portion of the facility also will serve as a low-barrier emergency shelter, as it had been earlier in the pandemic, before it was shut down for transition to bridge housing.

During that time, the neighborhood saw a marked increase in loitering, littering, and illicit and unhealthy activities that residents and business operators felt the facility attracted, Stratton says.

The current effort toward a good neighbor agreement shouldn’t be viewed as criticism of the Salvation Army’s work. But perhaps the Salvation Army is an appropriate organization to initiate such an agreement with, because it already has a reputation as being a good partner with neighbors, while providing standards it expects the people it serves to follow. Potentially, some of those standards can be used as a model toward developing more universal agreements.

Stratton also views an agreement in place in Portland, which currently is struggling with a more severe homeless crisis, as a potential model. It sets expectations within a defined geographic area for homeless services, neighborhood associations, specific businesses, business associations, and police. All participants agree to collaborate to solve problems.

While that working agreement isn’t legally binding, its goals include enhancing neighborhood safety and livability, while promoting access to services. It’s intended to foster positive relationships between the shelter and neighbors, reduce crime and fear of crime, and prioritize outreach to people experiencing homelessness who are referred to an agency under contract with the city.

Those are goals that we should be working better together to achieve here.

As Downtown Spokane Partnership President and CEO Mark Richard says, the purpose of a good neighbor agreement isn’t to outlaw homelessness, but it should aim to improve on humane treatment of some of our most vulnerable members of the community. Done right, such polices protect the vulnerable as much as they protect neighbors and business partners, he says.

The city should continue to seek good neighbor agreements, including with organizations with facilities and services already in place.

The bottom line is, we can be doing better than we’re currently doing.

And together, we can make progress if we’re working toward common goals that can be defined in good neighbor agreements.