Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Emphasis on accountability needed to address homelessness

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As we endeavor to return to normalcy following more than a year of pandemic induced disruptions, we need to ensure our downtown is an inviting place where everyone feels comfortable returning.

Much of the priority that had been placed on addressing homelessness throughout the last city election cycle had been put on the back burner during the pandemic. Now, homelessness and issues the come with it have become more visible.

We recognize most people experiencing homelessness aren’t criminals, but rather homelessness is an effect of tragic circumstances. Some business owners and downtown property owners, however, say they’re feeling the brunt of increases in crime and property damage from a minority of chronically homeless people who engage in illicit activity.

As Chud Wendle, leader of the grassroots Spokane Business & Commercial Property Council, says, “The community hasn’t had a roadmap as we see it. There’s no strong vision or action plan.”

Wendle, who is familiar with both the business community and charitable service providers, says the group feels there’s a legitimate question of whether low-barrier services without attention to accountability and enforcement attract chronically homeless from outside the area. He says that, anecdotally, many of the homeless people he’s visited on the streets say they aren’t from Spokane.

Representatives of the group have been meeting with service providers and community leaders trying to identify best practices in other communities that have moved the needle in lifting people out of chronic homelessness.

There are some models to look at, among them efforts in San Diego that are based on accountability and use a case-management system that all providers use. That city also has implemented a system that counts chronically homeless on a regular basis.

Here, Mayor Nadine Woodard recently has been promoting a regional approach with increased collaboration with the county and city of Spokane Valley, says her spokesman, Brian Coddington.

She also advocates the “bridge housing” model, which focuses on serving people who providers determine are ready for permanent housing. And she supports filling in service gaps such as the Volunteers of America shelter planned near Spokane Community College that will serve young adults aged 18-24 who are at a critical age in which providers can change the direction of their lives.

Coddington says the city will announce other initiatives soon and also will put out a request for proposals for year-round operation for the Cannon Shelter, as it shifts from a seasonal operation.

We’ll be glad to see these and other efforts coming online, since many downtown activities, ranging from regular cleanup to community courts for those experiencing homelessness, have been disrupted by the pandemic.

Meantime, we can’t wait longer, even in the wake of the pandemic.

We must reinstate enforcement where it is needed to prod those engaged in illicit activity to seek services that provide a lasting pathway away from the streets.

We also need to hold community leaders and service providers who depend on public funds accountable for showing results in addressing the issue, starting with downtown.

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