There is a crisis surrounding homelessness in Spokane, and a group of students is doing something about it.
Humanizing Spokane is a student-led movement dedicated to humanizing those experiencing homelessness and pushing for policy change that would support long-term solutions to homelessness.
The movement was started by Michael Larson, a senior sociology major with minors in leadership studies and solidarity and social justice, when he asked himself what it would take to decrease homelessness in Spokane.
From there, he formed an initial core team that spent hours researching to truly understand what was going on. When asking themselves what they could do about it, ideas for a documentary and a march bloomed.
“The narratives that are told often involve drug use and mental health issues and people who make bad choices that get themselves on the streets,” Larson said. “But what is totally missing from the conversation is the housing crisis that oftentimes is actually the greatest driver in increases in homelessness, at least recently.”
As demand for housing increases in certain areas, rent becomes increasingly expensive which is then followed by evictions, a direct cause of homelessness, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. This pattern can be seen in Seattle and other metropolitan cities in past years.
Education about housing issues is one thing lacking from the conversation surrounding homelessness. Humanizing Spokane is advocating for tenant protections, the cancellation of single-family zoning and an increase in public facilities that would provide more clean water, trash disposal sites and restrooms to the homeless population.
Isabelle Picciotti, a senior international relations and religious studies major, is a part of Humanizing Spokane and is in charge of organizing the Humans for Housing March.
“Humanizing Spokane allows every person to do their own thing and really plays upon their strengths,” Picciotti said.
Humanizing Spokane features 19 team members performing different roles within the movement, including community outreach, marketing, organizing the march and producing the documentary.
“We are full-time students who are organizing on the side, and we’re going to be able to do something that’s going to be big, and it’s going to be really powerful,” Larson said.
The movement allows students who want to make an impactful change to get organized with one another and put their ideas into actions.
While each team member had a different reason for wanting to join Humanizing Spokane, they share an important common value: a dedication to helping others.
“My most important call is to be a woman for others,” Picciotti said. “So whatever skills, traits and tricks that I have, I want to utilize those in the best way to serve everyone in my community.”
Even though homelessness is evident throughout Spokane, many Gonzaga students are unaware about how bad the issue truly is. Around Mission Park and the Centennial Trail, only two blocks away from the university, there are about 30 to 40 people who consider it their home, according to Larson.
“For students here, it feels so far removed from us, but this is our own backyard,” Larson said.
Humanizing Spokane is pushing for legislation that will keep people in their homes and change some of the zoning codes in Spokane that will allow for more affordable housing to be built across the city. This will help to decrease rent over time and prevent more people from becoming homeless.
Larson was the director of the documentary. The documentary tells the stories of a few individuals experiencing homelessness while also interviewing experts who can talk about the deeper systemic issues surrounding homelessness that are often missed in the media. In order to produce it in an ethical manner, they connected with nonprofits and shelters to find people who would be willing to tell their stories.
“You can’t love a group of people that you know little to nothing about,” Larson said. “There’s so many stereotypes and biases that make it really easy to criminalize homeless people, and to hate them, but it's time for us to start breaking down the stereotypes because it’ll only get worse unless we do something about it.”
The approximately 30-minute documentary will be shown in the Cataldo Globe Room from 8-9 p.m. on March 31.
The Humans for Housing March is scheduled for April 24 in downtown Spokane. More details for both the march and the documentary premiere will be released on the Humanizing Spokane Instagram (@humanizingspokane) and its website, www.humanizingspokane.com.
“We need Gonzaga’s support,” Larson said. “We need students to show up, share the documentary and attend the march.”
In order for Humanizing Spokane to really be successful and be able to make a difference with homelessness in Spokane, they need more than just those on their team to advocate for change.
“We are all Spokanites, and we all have a sense of responsibility to other Spokanites, regardless of where we are in life,” Picciotti said. “If we are men and women for others but only when it best suits our needs, then we’re failing.”
Ways to get involved and help the movement are available on both its Instagram and website. Humanizing Spokane strives to inspire others to show up for the homeless community on a deeper level and see them as more than their situation.
“We are all humans, we all have a stake in this game,” Picciotti said. “Some of us have been dealt better cards than others, but that does not mean that we are any different than the other person.”