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Homelessness | Spokane, WA
  • A person is considered homeless when he/she resides in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, and abandoned buildings; or in an emergency shelter; or in transitional housing.

    More than 20 transient camps are located in Spokane, and the City of Spokane cleans up their trash on a regular basis.  The city does have a homeless outreach team that tries to connect people with services; however, new camps show up each year.  To report a camp, call Code Enforcement at (509) 625-6730.  (KREM 2 News, September 29, 2015) 
  • One huge misconception of the poor is that they have all made poor choices, and the result is their current state.  There is something about our culture that says if you are not making it, it’s your fault.  Therefore, there is a tendency to blame those who are suffering, saying they have brought this misery upon themselves due to poor choices—therefore, I will not help them, for they deserve their misery.   
  • The world of the homeless may be quite near for many.  Total despair may come quickly after the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or child, a severe physical disability, or family problems.  Less than 6% choose to be homeless.  Most are victims of unplanned and unforeseen situations.   
  • The greatest need is housing.  70% of homeless families have no government housing resources.  Only 30% qualify for HUD, because HUD’s definition does not include (1)  Families who are doubled up with other families, or  (2)  Families who are paying for motels, because they have no other place to go.  

    This is due to the fact that the U.S. Census does not ask the right questions to determine multiple and homeless families in homes, asking questions like:  Who is in the household?  What is everyone’s income and employment?  

  • Reducing Poverty.  Poverty will not be solved by throwing money at the situation, or passing laws, or creating more housing, or feeding everyone.  However, poverty can be greatly relieved through sharing by society, and helping people change their lives.  We have to get to the core reason why a man is homeless to help him.  It is not about spending more money on housing.  It’s about changing a person’s life.  

The best way to get people out of poverty, is to have someone mentor them tho is not in poverty themselves.
  • Spokane Homeless Agencies.  The safety net of social services in Spokane has become so interconnected that a relatively minor change at one agency can trigger problems around the city.  
  • Government Funding Reduced.  Due to the withdrawal of much of the federal and state government funding for social services and charitable agencies, much of the obligation to help the poor has been shifted to religious and nonprofit organizations.

    The federal government requires cities to county the number of homeless residents every year in late January in order to receive federal grant funding.  This survey does not ask homeless people to give their names.  ("City Looks to improve homeless count," by Rachel Alexander, The Spokesman-Review, January 26, 2018) 
  • Community Churches.  Christians feel a special obligation to share with our neighbors and assist the poor, the fatherless, and others who are suffering.
  • Serving Blesses the Receiver and the Giver.  As individual citizens and churches find someone who needs their service, they will discover the secret to a happy, fulfilled life.   Each time we help someone who has a greater need than ours, our own burdens seem lighter.  We can’t help others without also helping ourselves.  (see “Those Who Serve are Happier, Healthier, and More Prosperous” under the Inspiration link on this website.) 

  • Hate Crimes.  Florida passed legislation to include the homeless population in its hate crimes law, and this has led to a dramatic decrease of crimes committed against the homeless in that state.  The study calls for similar legislation nationwide and education about homelessness in general and its implications. 

    We have a subculture that glorifies violence against the homeless in particular, due to negative stereotypes and not viewing the homeless as human.  This exploitation is viewed in “bum fight” videos on the internet showing attacks on homeless victims. 

Some of the reasons
people are homeless 

  • “HIDDEN HOMELESS."   These are the millions of people in our country who are one crisis away from losing their homes.  They may be doubled or tripled up in housing, or 48 hours from evict ion, or about to leave a hospital with nowhere to go.  
  • ADDICTIONS.    Research suggests less than 25% suffer from addictions to alcohol and drugs.    
  • CHILDREN WHO AGE-OUT OF FOSTER CARE.   Every year several hundred children age-out of foster care in Washington State—40% fail to finish high school, 20% go into shelters, and 20% spend time in jail.  
  • ELDERLY.   Many of elderly are on fixed incomes and afraid to go to a shelter or soup kitchen.  Others live in poverty—not homeless, but home-bound without needed utilities.
  • EMPLOYMENT ISSUES.   Many have lost their jobs.  In America we are told that if you work hard, you will be successful.  Poverty can strike without warning as a result of job loss.  Thousands are losing jobs as factories close and jobs are outsourced, leaving people with only the skills that served them so well on the assembly line.   Many of the homeless are willing to work and want to work, but lack the opportunity.  All are looking for a chance.  
  • FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN.   One-quarter of the homeless are children.  There are 1500 homeless children and teens in Spokane, and that is increasing.  
  • FLEEING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.   Spokane County law enforcement agencies receive more than 10,000 phone calls a year asking for help with domestic violence.  Domestic violence can affect people from all walks of life.  Half of all women and children experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence from a bad relationship.  More than 50% of women in the U.S. are battered at some time in their lives.  An estimated 3-4 million women are beaten repeatedly in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or lovers.  The Justice Department says that one in four American women experience domestic violence.  Battering is the single largest cause of injury to women in the U.S., resulting in many homicides as a result of domestic violence.  

  • HOMELESS ON THE STREET.    Do NOT take homeless people home with you.   Many of those people who appear to be homeless, standing on street corners and holding signs requesting money or food, are not legitimate.   Some feel it is better to feed 10 imposters than to pass by one truly needy person.  Be advised that people who really need help are usually already in the system.
  • ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.   This group is growing rapidly.  
  • LOW INCOME.   A homeless person may be someone with a job!  25% of the homeless are working people.  Sometimes they hold down one or more jobs, but are unable to afford housing, or pay for day-care.  In every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one-or-two bedroom apartment.   Many people live paycheck to paycheck, and are just 2 paychecks away from needing help.   
The “working poor” in Spokane do not live on the streets and beg for money—the poor are not all homeless.  The poor are not strangers—they are all around us—they are the people you meet every day.  Their kids sit next to your kids in the classroom.  
  • EDUCATED.   Many of the poor are educated people with work histories.  Many have completed high school; some have attended college, and even graduate school.  However, having a job is no longer a guarantee of self-sufficiency.  They have no savings for an emergency, or money to replace an old car.  All it takes is an illness, combined with the car breaking down, or less hours at work, or some other bad luck, and many are in need of outside help.  
  • MEDICAL ISSUES.   Poverty can strike without warning as a result of illness.   In addition, the number of homeless who are AIDS victims is increasing rapidly.   Many have been crippled by enormous medical debt.    One-third of our population is uninsured or under-insured with medical coverage.       It is easy to criticize people for choosing to not have health care, but that expense is often the last thing they can afford, because a roof over their head and food on the table comes first.  About 2/3 of the homeless families would qualify for government-sponsored coverage for their children if parents would apply.  The problems are mainly that parents don’t know about government assistance, and the enrollment process is cumbersome.
  • MEN.   The majority of homeless people are males.  Thousands of Spokane’s homeless are men; and 40% of them are disabled Veterans with emotional issues and disabilities.  Most of them are from the Vietnam conflict, where veterans of that war were abandoned and discouraged, even dishonored.  Many wound up on our streets, some of them disabled; others mentally traumatized by their war experiences; others simply unable to find work. 

  • MENTAL ILLNESS.   Spokane has a high rate of mental illness.  The State average is 5%--Spokane’s average is 8%.  Many of the homeless suffer from serious depression, mental illnesses, and disabilities.  Most can become self-sufficient with help.  
  • TEENAGERS.   Hundreds of teenagers (as young as 13) run away from home.  They would rather live on the streets, independent of their families.  Most are victims of violence, rape, incest, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect.  

  • The January 2017 homeless count in Spokane was as follows:
    • 325 chronically homeless people.  Spokane sheltered most homeless people this past winter.
    • 19% were under age 18, many as part of a family
    • 7% were between ages 18 and 24
    • 13% of those counted remained unsheltered

      NOTE:  It costs about $1.5 million a year for the shelters to bring in everyone off the streets.  Spokane is currently trying to house all of the homeless.  (Source:  "Full shelters a good sign?" by Shawn Vestal, The Spokesman-Review, May 19, 2017)

  • There were 5,000 homeless people in Spokane County in 2015. 

    Just over 3,000 of the 5,000 homeless are children grades K-12, which is 33% higher than the statewide average.  This number includes people who are couch-surfing, living in cars, and staying in shelters.  Of the roughly 3,000 homeless children in Spokane County schools, 76% of them are "doubled up."  ("Spokane's youth homeless rate 33% higher than state average, study says," by Eli Francovich, The Spokesman-Review, Nov. 2, 2015)

    In the fall of 2016, there were 350 students from about 200 families in the CVSD who were homeless; and 75-80% are doubled up with family and friends.  The County reports that it is difficult to identify the homeless living in the County and outside of the city of Spokane, because they are not staying in shelters; and it is more difficult to locate and count those who are homeless when they are living in cars in parking lots, in tents and under bridges throughout the entire County.  (GVSN, March 2017)

    The city of Spokane reported a 2014 PIT (point-in-time count) of approximately 1,033 homeless people who are living on the streets (not those who are couch-surfing or staying in shelters).  This included 146 homeless families with children.  The characteristics of this number consisted of approximately
    257 people experiencing severe mental illness; 182 people with a chronic substance abuse condition; 238 survivors of domestic violence; and 151 chronically homeless individuals.  “Chronically homeless” is defined as having been without housing for more than a year or at least a total of four times in three years.

    All it takes to be homeless and out on the street is one missed paycheck, losing a job, or an illness.  According to the SRHD's new study, a family of four in Spokane must make over $43,000 to provide basic needs, including food, housing, utilities, transportation, child care, health care, personal and household expenses.  One in three Spokane families do not meet that criteria. 

    The root cause of homelessness in Spokane is poverty and lack of affordable housing.  Mental illness and drugs are only a small percent of this population. 

    If you are homeless with children, or think you know someone who is homeless, please say something
    to school counselors. 

    (Sources:  "Youth homeless rate high," The Spokesman Review, November 3, 2015; Spokane Regional Health District's Kim Papich and Reporter Caiti Currey of KXLY News, November 6, 2015; City of Spokane; "Homeless numbers in Spokane County Higher," by Jody Lawrence-Turner, The Spokesman-Review, June 6, 2014; Spokane Community Indicators for 2014, EWU)  

  • 1,033 homeless individuals, or a total of 772 households including families with children, adult-only families, and other households were reported in a 2015 one-day count of the homeless.  (Missing the Foundation, SRHD, 2015)

  • One out of 4 homeless persons is a child.

    • Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, now accounting for up to 40%.

    • Approximately 3.5 million people experience homelessness over the course of a given year, and 1.35 million of them are children.

(Source:  Family Promise of Spokane, U.S. statistics, 2016) 
  • Statistics from Community Indicators and Priority Spokane (2015) 
    • 12% increase in homelessness in Spokane County from 2013-2014 (The Spokesman Review)
    • 26% of homeless individuals are children, half of which are under the age of 6.
    • 3.8% of Spokane's students are homeless (Spokane County)
    • 83% of homeless students have experienced a violent event by the age of 12. 
    • 75% of homeless students do not graduate. 
    • 776 homeless students attended Spokane's Public Schools during the 2014 school year.  (District 81)
    • Homeless students are 4 times as likely to get sick than other children. 
    • Homeless students are twice as likely to have learning disabilities as non-homeless children.  (http://www.familyhomelessness.org)
    • 1 out of every 5 children in the U.S. lives in poverty.  (Annie Casey Foundation)
    • l out of 4 homeless people are children.  (Family Promise of Spokane)
      (Source:  Priority Spokane 2015 - http://www.priorityspokane.org/ps--research.html)

What You Can Do
  • Collect winter clothing (old or new) for your local homeless shelter.

  • Donate your change to "Give Real Change," at specified downtown Spokane parking meters.  This money will be given to local homeless services, rather than panhandlers. 
  • Attend Spokane's monthly Homeless Coalition meetings held by Spokane's Housing and Human Services Department, and ask what you can do to help.   Representatives from Spokane's homeless agencies meet the first Thursday of every month from 9:00 - l0:30 am at the Gathering House, 733 W. Garland Avenue, Spokane, WA  http://www.spokanehc.com.
  • Research homeless programs which are making the biggest difference, and share them with local mayors and city councils so we can learn from the successes of others.  (see Resources below)
  • The homeless need far more than coats and food, they need jobs.  When shelters are too overwhelmed and under supported to house them, the homeless have to sleep on the streets.  Veronika Scott started the nonprofit The Empowerment Plan in Detroit to help the homeless.  She hires previously homeless women to make sleeping bag coats, coats that transform into sleeping bags, to empower them to be independent.   (CBN News, February 6, 2015) 
Local Organizations
Additional Resources
  • City of Spokane:  If you need assistance with finding shelter, and are located in City of Spokane, please call Spokane's Homeless Family Coordinated Assessment, before calling the homeless shelters.  The Assessment team will assess your situation, and direct you to the agencies which serve your particular needs.
    Homeless Family Coordinated Assessment 
    (a program of Catholic Charities)
    Family Resource Center Bldg.
    19 W. Pacific
    (Myrtle Woldson Institute building)
    Spokane, WA  99201
    (509) 325-5005 (answered 24/7)
    Walk-in Hours:  Monday - Thursday from 12:30 pm to 5 pm.

    Spokane County:  If you need assistance with finding shelter, and are located in Spokane County and outside of the City of Spokane, please contact:
    Spokane County Community Services Housing,
    and Community Development Department

    (an assessment for homelessness and housing)
    (866) 904-9060
    Learn if you are eligible for an application for County-administered programs, connect to  City administered programs, access publicly and privately funded emergency shelters info, and link to Washington Connections website to apply other governmental benefits.

  • DSHS Home and Community Services
    Food, Cash, Medical assistance

    Dept. of Social and Health Services - Washington State
    (509) 323-9400
    (509) 227-2200   North Office
    (509) 227-2500   Central Office, 1313 N. Maple Street
    (509) 227-2400   Southwest Office
    (509) 227-2700   Valley Office, 8517 E. Trent Ave, Ste 202

  • Homeless people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida have an alternative to shelters:  A one-way bus ticket out of the city, thanks to a $25,000 program approved by city commissioners.  This program is designed to get people off the streets and get them into a healthy, positive environment; although, it doesn’t guarantee a person won’t become homeless again.  To qualify, participants who truly want help must prove they have a network of support (family and friends who truly care about them and are willing to help) in their destination city that is willing to let them move in.   Money used to purchase the bus tickets comes from money confiscated from criminals.    (“Florida, a city to buy one-way bus tickets for homeless to leave,” Florida’s The Sun Sentinel report and Elizabeth Chuck at NBC News)

  • The Bowery Mission (lower Manhattan, New York City) offers more than a helping hand.  They restore the broken lives of homeless men and women.  Opened in 1879, the Bowery Mission treats more than just the symptoms of homelessness—they treat the root causes of the problem.  They provide food and shelter to thousands of people.  Every day they serve 800 nutritious, made-from-scratch meals with food donated from top restaurants all over the city.  In 2012, they served soup to lobster, 30,000 bags of groceries, and nights of shelter for 80,000 homeless people. 

    The mission offers a 6-month live-in drug and alcohol recovery program.  Participants are enrolled in computer classes where they receive hands-on training and job counseling.  Services provide hope and nourishment to the souls of the city’s homeless, with hymn singing, prayer and sermons in its chapel. 

    As a privately funded group, the mission receives donations from private citizens, but no government money, which allows it to implement spiritual guidance in its programs.  They have found that when you really change a man or woman’s heart, it tends to last,  especially if you support them after they graduate.  Four out of five of their graduates are still clean and sober a year later; and that is a wonderful result.  That is not true of the city’s secular programs. 

    There is a significant cost to helping the homeless
    at this or any other shelter, but it is far less than at government-funded shelters.  For a man to go through their program and graduate clean and sober and connected to Christ, it costs about $12,500.00.  In contrast to that, it takes $20,000/year just to warehouse a man in one of New York City’s shelters, and even more if he has committed a crime and is in jail. 

    “The city of New York is committed to doing what they can with shelters, to get people off the streets and give them food and shelter; but, if you don’t address the deeper spiritual, more fundamental issues of what it means to be a human being, you will continue to have shelters that are full of people who come back day-after-day, and week-after-week for the same thing.  The problem of homelessness is beyond the scope of local, state and the federal government.  It is really best and most efficient in the hands of private individuals or organizations who manage the homeless.”  (Craig Mayes, Director of New York City Rescue Mission, The 700 Club, January 2013)