Have you ever felt that Spokane is intentionally fumbling our homelessness problem? Does it feel like all the folks in power have coordinated to do the absolute bare minimum? Like maybe they aren’t even trying to find real solutions, they just want to sweep things under the rug? Well, you’re not wrong, and now we have literally hundreds of receipts to show that’s exactly what’s happening.

Emails between business interests and Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl were recently released, and this gem from Chud Wendle pretty much sums up the homeless approach coordinated between Mayor Woodward, Police Chief Meidl, and several right leaning business groups in our community…

“The hope is that we do not get caught up on philosophical beliefs of homelessness including upstream issues including affordable housing, mental health, drug addiction (lack of resources) but can stick to what is facing us as a group and that is the short-term economic impact on our properties and our business.”

—business group leader Chud Wendle.

Meidl’s feelings? “You and your group are an answered prayer.”

Wow. They know what the actual problems are, they know what people actually need, but they are intentionally advocating to ignore the needs of the community, and exclusively focus on protecting their own property or money.

So what’s their strategy? Their plan is to create laws that criminalize being homeless to force folks into shelters with terrible services and ongoing violence or put them in jail. Out of sight, out of mind.

Of course before they put people in jail they had to prove that Spokane has adequate shelter beds, because a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals compels them to.

In 2018, The Spokesman reported: The [court ruling] said, in essence, that prosecuting a homeless person for sitting or lying on a sidewalk is criminalizing homelessness. … “they are one and the same, given that human beings are biologically compelled to rest,” and if no shelter is available, sitting and lying on public property “is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless.”

So they invested in the Trent Shelter, a warehouse with no facilities that community advocates said was a bad idea and is now proving to be a bad idea wasting millions in taxpayer dollars. :\

“Thanks to your calls, emails, and testimony, the Spokane City Council passed the Trent Shelter lease last Monday. The next critical step is to get a meaningful sit & lie and public camping ordinance passed that gives our city the ability to enforce our laws to allow for a safe and clean community.” says Emily Strode a Consultant from Town Square Strategies. In other words, now that the “shelter” was open, arrests can resume.

“We make it easy to be homeless,” Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said. “I know that’s not a popular thing for some people to hear… this ordinance is not to push people around, but to push people into assistance.”

The “assistance” in question though is a trainwreck. The Trent Shelter was a sweetheart lease deal that lined Larry Stone’s pockets and broke nearly every best practice recommendation for creating homeless shelters in the book. The Trent “Shelter” is a literal warehouse. Worse than that, it’s a warehouse the city doesn’t even own, without running water or sanitation facilities. The folks in power knew that warehousing human beings in a box without the facilities necessary for basic sanitary living was a terrible approach, but it solved their available bed problem which in turn allows them to use police force to sweep unhoused people out of sight, so they just didn’t care. When they do invest in this building – that the city doesn’t own – it’s only going to line Larry Stone’s pockets more.

Also among these emails between Chief Meidl and the business association, they accuse “activist groups [of] using compassion as a weapon”, they denounce data proven approaches like housing first, and bring up the specter of anti-fascists. They are trying to solve homelessness with warehouses and imprisonment and framing compassion as a political weapon. Compassion isn’t a political weapon, it’s pretty much the only thing that will actually help homelessness.

So to recap: Yes, homelessness is a major problem in Spokane, to which we need to find real solutions. What the mayor, chief of police, right-wing business interests, and by default our city council (who seem to be going along to get along) are doing will only exacerbate the issue. Their plan to minimize the visibility of homelessness by putting folks in warehouses or jail is costing millions and is only making things worse for folks on the bottom of the economic ladder to appease those at the top.

Constantly trying to look like you’re doing something – while doing your best to not actually help anything – wastes millions. If we instead took that money and listened to those closest to the issues by authentically investing in the wellbeing of unhoused people, we’d end up so much further ahead as a community. The problem is the folks in power don’t want that. And truthfully, many Spokane voters don’t want that either.

But why? Why Spokane? Why do we begrudge helping those who need it most? Why do we let “homeless” solutions enrich the already wealthy? Why don’t more folks realize that punishing the less fortunate instead of helping them hurts our entire community?

If you keep folks in poverty, you have to worry about property crime. If you keep jailing folks, you keep destroying families. If you keep wasting money on ineffective homeless solutions, you exacerbate homelessness.

See the screenshot below of a community survey Mayor Nadine sent out. Our administration continues to conflate “police” with “crime prevention” despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. It’s these OTHER things that actually prevent crime, not police.

Survey from Mayor of Spokane Nadine Woodward that conflate Police with Crime Prevention while ignoring all the other things on her list are the sort of investments that actually lead to crime prevention.

Everyone wants less crime, but leaning on police to do all the work just creates more prisoners. We need to actually invest in our community; in each other.

Spokane, if we can get over the fact that some folks need more help than others, we’re part of the way there. If we can get over the fact that punishing folks who are already down does not lift them up, that will definitely help. If we can bring ourselves to frame these proven solutions as an investment in all of us and not just a handout to a few, that’s going to be magic.

So Spokane, how about it? Why don’t we invest in real solutions? We make all the rules. We can do so much better.

Currently SCAR is working with dozens of community organizations to draft a Platform for Change 2.0 that will be released later this year and will outline how our community could embark on this journey. We hope this will help the community maintain focus on a brighter future, but you can absolutely start this work today. Email the Mayor and City Council, ask Meidl to resign, volunteer with SCAR or one of our partner organizations. And please keep an eye on the current city budget process. Every bit of effort makes a difference.