Jeff Humphrey

Taking Services and Hope Inside Homeless Camps

Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at 2:07 p.m.

It’s 95 degrees but Bob Peeler is still making his regular rounds through the homeless camps dot the shoreline of the Spokane River.

“How are you doing with getting ID and stuff is that working out pretty good?” Peeler asks of two people sitting in a tent near Avista’s headquarters.

Peeler is an outreach worker for Spokane Neighborhood Action Program or SNAP. He is a trusted, familiar face in camps and local homeless shelters.

“The majority of folks we see are very kind, very resourceful. It takes a while for them to just understand we’re here just to give you options then you chose which option works best for you,” Peeler explained.

Peelers’s outreach partner is Tammy Meyers who works for Frontier Behavioral Health. Meyers also visits the camps because one out of every four homeless people are suffering from some sort of mental health problem.

“Doing outreach by going out in the field brings services to them and it builds a rapport that gets them services whether it’s housing, mental health or substance abuse quicker than going through some of the other channels,” Meyers said.

Peeler and Meyers hand out water and trash bags as they try to knock down the barriers that have trapped people in a very bare bones existence on the streets.

“In terms of homeless intervention, it’s a very successful outcome for our community so we are trying to invest in those things that we know really make a difference and move the needle,” said Dawn Kinder of the City of Spokane.

That’s why the Spokane City Council recently voted to hire more outreach workers to help people like a young woman Peeler and Meyers found in a camp near Mission Park.

Carrie told her visitors that she wants a job, but she’s worried about her criminal history.

“I got a whole list of places that hire felons,” Peeler offered.

“Well then I’ll definitely see you on Friday,” Carrie said as she promised to meet Peeler at SNAP for an evaluation.

While Spokane is expanding its homeless outreach, the City is scaling back 24/7 shelter operations at the House of Charity.

“Ultimately what that means is the loss of about 100 shelter beds and service hours between noon and six p.m. It’s a temporary loss,” Kinder said.

Spokane was paying the House of Charity to provide a 24/7 shelter but city officials realized they were housing too many people in one spot.

There were also concerns about the overcrowded conditions robbing homeless people of their dignity and not enough emphasis on helping them find a way off the streets.

“We know our long term goals for homeless shelters include a very robust housing element, case management element and a real focus on moving people out of the homeless system,” Kinder added.

Spokane was already making plans to have a second homeless shelter, that’s more focused on providing services, up and running by July of 2019.

But in the meantime, the City will concentrate on outreach including a new effort called Hope Works.

That program allows panhandlers to put down their signs and earn 50 bucks a day doing community service projects.

At the end of the day, workers are offered access to additional services.

City officials say more than ever before, people need to resist giving money directly to panhandlers and make your contributions to the non-profits and agencies that are providing permanent solutions to people experiencing homelessness.

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