The Journal’s View: Politics should be put aside to address homelessness
~September 14th, 2023
A regional approach to addressing homelessness remains the best path forward for helping the Spokane area’s most vulnerable people. Elected leaders must put political ideologies and partisan influences aside to find ways to work together to make the approach viable.
Early this summer, a group calling itself the Spokane Regional Collaborative presented a plan for addressing homelessness. That plan would establish a multijurisdictional authority for providing homeless services and ultimately reducing the number of unhoused families and individuals.
Led by former city of Spokane executives Theresa Saunders, Rick Romero, and Gavin Cooley, the group has been meeting with community leaders and tweaking the plan in hopes the municipalities and county that would be involved will agree to participate.
The Collaborative’s timeline is aggressive, and the goals are lofty. The main goal is to reduce the annual, countywide point-in-time count for the homeless population by 40% within two years. That would reverse a trend in which that count has risen dramatically in recent years, including increasing by a third during this year, compared with the previous year.
When advocating for the regional approach, the Journal stated in July that meeting such goals would require the county and involved cities to act in a matter of weeks, not months. That’s still possible, but it appears less likely since the City Council passed a resolution in late August that reads largely like a list of demands for what it wants to see before supporting the current effort.
The Council can’t be blamed for wanting to do its due diligence.
That said, there’s room for compromise on some of the elements that seem to be sticking points based on political ideology. The first that comes to mind is the mention of incarceration. The Council wants “detention as an accountability tool” removed from the principles of the authority.
Pragmatically, that stance is a headscratcher. Proponents of the authority aren’t suggesting people should be thrown in jail to reduce the point-in-time count. Rather, the statement simply is acknowledging incarceration as a recourse for those who engage in criminal activity. It isn’t something that should hold up the entire process.
Spokane City Councilmember Karen Stratton says the Council is in support of the regional approach and generally likes the Houston model on which the Spokane model is based. It’s the right path moving forward, she says.
She’s concerned, however, about the burden on city staff during the time of transition and wants to make sure the county, city of Spokane Valley, and other municipalities that would be involved are doing their fair share, financially.
We won’t pretend to know what that fiscal fair share looks like, but it’s clear that homelessness is a communitywide problem, and it shouldn’t be viewed as a city of Spokane issue simply because most of the social services are located in the city.
The general support for the regional approach is encouraging, and hopefully, elected leaders are closer to getting something done than it might appear. We hope so, because what we’re doing currently isn’t working, despite the hard work of many passionate people.