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Struggles and Success of homeless advocacy in Spokane, Washington

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

by Rachel Rothenberg, American University student

If the public knew the stories behind the headlines and the negative images they see on the nightly news, would that motivate them to respond?  If voters saw the real histories instead of the myths about those without housing would that change the way society dealt with homelessness in America?  Maurice Smith of Spokane Washington is working to answer that question.  Three years ago, Smith began making documentaries about homelessness in this mid-sized northwestern city that featured a growing homeless population. The documentaries revealed that homelessness was a much larger issue than the city had claimed and the population experiencing homelessness are much different compared to what is portrayed in the media.

Smith has worked alongside those without housing and disadvantaged people of Spokane city for over 15 years. Some of his experience includes operating four different homeless shelters, serving on various organizing teams for Spokane homelessness projects, and co-founding a food rescue organization. Smith’s documentary series “My Road Leads Home” spotlights the housing crisis in Spokane and addresses the way that the city is handling it. He began working on these documentaries to let the Spokane community hear from homeless people and set the tone for discussing homelessness with the practice of Shalom which is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility.

According to Smith, the Spokane community rests on the value of Shalom to create a healthy community in which each of the members are able to fulfill the daily needs and successfully pursue their talents for the good of the entire community.  “You and I look at the community and see things that are not the way they should be,” Smith said and gave examples of people sleeping on the sidewalk or young people ‘couch surfing’. Marchanuna Rodgers, an international development specialist, asks the Spokane community an important question: What would it look like if a community is defined by shalom? She shares a difficult story of her community showing up for her during a hard night. She poses the potential of a genuinely supportive community showing up for each other when the situation presents itself. Sadly, that is not always the case. 

 In The Night of the Unsheltered Homeless and The Hidden Homeless: Families Experiencing Homelessness, Smith specifically demonstrates the way that Spokane downplayed homelessness and was not equipped to shelter more than 52% of the homeless population. Rob Bryceson explains that Spokane’s policy on homelessness is the following: the city provides private funds to organizations that apply to provide resources for homeless people. The main three operating Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, and Union Gospel Mission. Unfortunately, Bryceson said “the need has grown” and the big three agencies need other groups to “come in and add strength” because of a “change in the homeless population.” The change in the homeless population in Spokane to “angrier and younger” has made it more difficult for the city of Spokane to manage sheltering homeless people. 

Another dysfunctional “solution” to homelessness is the practice of sweeps. Law enforcement and government officials of Spokane see sweeps as a quick fix to ending homelessness, although they do not actually “go to the root of the problem,” as civil rights lawyer Andrew Biviano claimed in the video published by Smith. By shifting the issue to be the responsibility of the police, policymakers can easily adopt an “out of sight, out of mind mentality.” Along with sweeps, the Boise court decisions allows law enforcement to “arrest people for conduct crimes such as obstructing the sidewalk” which criminalizes a homeless person’s existence. 

Smith’s work, along with many other advances by the homeless community also catalyzed great progress. The city has a “greater community focus on and discussion about private initiatives to address homelessness,” says Smith. Several projects are starting such as a drop-in day center and resource hub and a homeless village. All the videos about the problem in Spokane can be found at https://myroadleadshome.org/documentary/.  There are still many issues to overcome for example in February 2022, the city installed chain-link fences along the viaduct to prevent tents from going up.  There are still not nearly enough shelter beds, and people are still dying because of their experiences living without housing.  Smith’s documentaries have changed the narrative and spread community awareness about homelessness in Spokane. They have moved leaders to open warming centers and the Mayor has had to admit that there are not enough beds and their needs to be a new strategy.  We hope that these interviews and snapshots into life on the streets of Spokane will lead to meaningful change in addressing the crisis of the unaffordability of rent locally.  

Build Back Better Broken-Heart Valentine Action

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

We are Broken Hearted this Valentine’s Day Over the Deaths of our Neighbors whose lives were cut short by Homelessness. Urge our Elected Leaders to Do More to Create and Build More Affordable Housing.

In 2018, National Healthcare for the Homeless estimated that at least 17,500 people experiencing homelessness died without a home. That’s at least 49 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters or friends dying everyday because they were unable to afford safe housing and adequate health care. How many more people have to die before Housing is a Human Right in this country?  

Those who died were artists, teachers, first responders, those laid off because of the pandemic, and business owners. They were followers of nearly every major religion and spent countless hours volunteering to serve others. They lived in the richest country on the planet and yet died because they did not have the basic income needed to pay the bills or to afford housing or quality health care. Each of their lives counted, even though they were cast aside by their country and communities.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), and hundreds of partners across the country have remembered their names and their stories for over 30 years on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held symbolically on the winter solstice. On February 11, 2022, NCH Staff and Advocates who have experienced homelessness will read over 3,000 names of individuals whose lives were cut short due to the effects of unstable housing. 

But we need to do more than remember their names. We can begin by passing the Build Back Better Act, which includes direly needed and historic investments of almost $170 billion in housing accessibility programs. NCH is sending “Broken Heart” Valentine’s Day messages to every member of the US Senate that include the names of constituents who have died without housing. 

We are urging you to send a similar message to your elected leadership in your local, state or national leaders.

Here’s what you can do: 

These are our neighbors and constituents who are not able to be here because they could not afford safe housing and decent health care. Let’s tell our senators – If you pass BBB in their honor, you can undo decades of disinvestment in housing programs that could prevent more of your constituents from succumbing to deep poverty and homelessness.

1. Find your state representatives:

2. Access the list of names we received, by state:

  • Find a list of names in your state by clicking here. 

3. Print these cards and give them to your local or state representatives:

4. Find images for posting: 

Facebook; download image here:  broken heart call to action fb (3).png

Instagram/Twitter, download image here: 13,000 preventable deaths. 535 members of congress. 1 bill..png

5. Post on social media using these sample posts:

  • Does your heart break for the 17,500+ people without homes who die each year? The Senate must pass the critical housing investments in #BuildBackBetter to prevent more unnecessary deaths! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
  • My heart breaks for the more than 17,500 people who die without homes each year. We have to do better! We can start with passing nearly $170 billion in critical housing supports in #BuildBackBetter! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB 
  • Data shows that between 17,500 and 46,500 people die without housing each year. That’ s at least 17,500 people dying due to extreme weather, violence or unattended health conditions. That’s at least 17,500 people dying preventable deaths. #PassBBB #BuildBackBetter #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths https://nhchc.org/homeless-mortality/
  • Dear Senator: You have the power to undo decades of disinvestment in housing programs and communities that could prevent more of your constituents succumbing to deep poverty and homelessness. Pass #BuildBackBetter with housing. Save lives, [your state] needs you. #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB

Jeff Olivet has been named as the New Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

The National Coalition for the Homeless enthusiastically supports the appointment of Jeff Olivet as the New Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).

We at NCH always aim to amplify the voices of people with lived experience of homelessness, and Jeff’s tireless advocacy to bridge racial disparities and end homelessness are nothing short of extraordinary, and we are elated that Jeff was appointed this position as USICH Executive Director. We strongly believe that Jeff will use his position to develop a partnership with the advocacy community and those with lived experience homeless in our country.

Jeff has worked in the field of homelessness services in various capacities, and has proven a powerful advocate in each. His experience in outreach and executive levels give him the extensive background he needs to be successful in his new role.

Jeff Olivet, now Director of the UISCH, with NCH Director Donald Whitehead and colleague Kavita Singh Gilchrist

Jeff’s work with NCH’s Bring America Home Now (BAHN) campaign and Lived Experience Training Academy (LETA) has brought irreplaceable knowledge and value to the progression of each. His knowledge of the lived experience is critical to effective advocacy in the movement to end homelessness.

Here are some words from Olivet that exemplify his character and passion for the work:

I believe down to my core that we can end homelessness in America if we come together to scale what is working, eliminate racial disparities, lift the voices of those who have experienced homelessness, and work across sectors to create meaningful upstream solutions,” said Olivet. “I am deeply grateful to Secretary Fudge, Secretary McDonough, the members of the council, and the president for the trust they have placed in me. I look forward to working across the entire federal government and with national, state, and local partners to redouble our commitment to the vision of an America where no one has to experience homelessness.

-Jeff Olivet, USICH Press release

As the fight to end homelessness pushes on, NCH will miss Jeff’s powerful advocacy with the Bring America Home Now campaign, but wish him nothing but success, and look forward to the value and change he will continue to add to the movement as ED of the USICH. 

“I am very excited by the appointment of Jeff Olivet as Executive Director of the Interagency Council.  Jeff’s appointment speaks to the administration’s commitment to the core values of peer involvement and centering racial equity”. said Donald Whitehead,  Executive Director of NCH.

The USICH spent much of 2021 soliciting feedback from the country about the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness. Click here to see what they heard from folks like you!

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