Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 2:54 p.m.
Spokane’s mayor is no stranger to a little curb-side campaigning, but this morning David Condon and members of the City Council were asking for your support of a community concept called “Give Real Change.”
“We’re asking citizens, rather than give to individuals throughout the city, give to those organizations that have committed to making real changes in people’s lives,” Condon said.
“I’m asking motorist to consider how far do they want their money to go? You give $5 to somebody who has a cardboard sign and it’s not going to go nearly as far it will if you give to a local charity,” added Spokane City Councilmember Lori Kinnear.
Give Real Change is about connecting Spokane’s citizens who are homeless with the resources they need to end their traumatic experience of living in our parks and our streets.
“Spokane is a compassionate city full of compassionate people who want to make a difference,” Jonathan Mallahan, director of Neighborhood & Business Services said. ”So what we’re trying to do is help them to give to agencies that are making changes that put people in permanent housing and change their lives for the better.”
Last week the City installed new signs in panhandling hotspots urging people, like a homeless woman named, Abby, to call 211 for help.
“We had a place. We had a job and everything,” Abby said. “Then he lost his job and we lost our place and it’s been one thing after another.”
Like 80 percent of the people struggling with homelessness, Abby and her 4-year-old daughter used to live in one of our neighborhoods. Up until now Abby spent the day panhandling as she waits for more permanent housing.
“I’m on three different waiting lists and it’s a matter of hit-and-miss on whether or not they have a way of getting ahold of us,” Abby worried.
Last week, a City employee referred Abby to Family Promise, a 24/7 shelter, fully funded by the City. This year, the mayor and city council will spend $13 million to help people experiencing homelessness, support for low income families and housing.
“We fund everything from employment services,” Mallahan explained. “We fund outreach to help make a connection with those people who are experiencing homelessness and help them take advantage of the services that we are funding like sheltering. We find transitional housing for families.”
The City is also paying the House of Charity more than $500,000 this year to keep its doors open 24/7, as well as a coordinated in-take system that addresses individual needs and underlying challenges, including not being victimized by crime.
“We know there was criminal activity going on under the freeway and we have vulnerable citizens and businesses that rely on us to keep them safe,” Kinnear said.
Those crime victims included the homeless themselves, students and staff at Lewis and Clark High School and some of Jim Redmon’s auto repairs customers.
“Our cars out in our lots have been broken into. We’ve had windows broke. We’ve had customers harassed. Garbage every morning is everywhere,” Redmon lamented.
And that’s when the city set its sights on driving away the criminal element by robbing them of a comfortable place to wait for their victims. There were also safety concerns created by overgrown brush in the area under the freeway.
“The City started on this path to improve public safety last year,” Kinnear explained. “That meant we were going to improve lighting, provide fencing and better signage and eliminate the shrubbery and bring in the rock. This is all done as part of environmental design.”
The City has made similar environmental changes to help reduce crime in our parks and other public spaces so that public property remains safe for all the public to use.
When the City realized property under the freeway had become a haven for dangerous, illegal behavior crews cleared away the brush and in its place installed a layer of rock to improve the safety of the area for everyone who uses it, including those who experience homelessness.
The rock was the last move in a series of improvements to designed to reduce crime under Interstate 90.
The boulders did displace some people experiencing homelessness and the hope is those people will take advantage of safer, healthier housing options provided through the City’s emergency shelters and housing system.
Weeks before the rock arrived outreach teams, hired by the City, offered people taking shelter under I-90 a chance to transition from life on the street. Some of them welcomed the opportunity. Others did not.
Because of the basalt, the City will now spend less money removing the 800 pounds of garbage and litter generated by the campers every day.
Connecting people with services and housing is the goal. That’s why outreach teams check in with homeless individuals and families daily and encourage campers to use shelters where they can be connected with the life-changing services they need in a safer more appropriate living environment. They also offer resources connecting people with employment, health care and guidance navigating complex systems.
These services are made available through individual agencies and collectively through Community Court, regardless of their involvement in the justice system.
It’s a comprehensive network, built around the needs of individuals who are in crisis and need the help of their community.
“People need to feel comfortable to fail, to try new things and to be open to services when they are available to them,” said Tija Danzig from Community Housing and Human Services. “Sometimes it’s the first try, sometimes it’s the hundredth try, but we always want to be there to help people in need.”
Danzig helped organize this summer’s 100 Youth 100 Days Challenge. The City and its partners met their ambitious goal finding housing for 109 young people experiencing homelessness.
“We looked at it as a stepping stone to a higher goal of providing a system where our youth could feel safe and supported when they need help most,” Condon said of the program.
And now, as the summer draws to a close, Spokane is urging motorist to not hand over their spare change to individuals, but rather donate whatever you can afford to the agencies that work to end homelessness.
“People, in their desire to be compassionate and give to those who are suffering, can sometimes fuel habits that don’t help individuals so this is an option for people to give to the agencies that they can be sure are going to spend those dollars to help people make positive changes,” Mallahan said.
And that’s why you’ll find orange parking meters going up around town as an easy way for you to help the less fortunate find a better way of life. Help them and our City move forward and Give Real Change.