Homelessness has always been an issue for the city of Spokane.
This has escalated due to the House of Charity limiting its capacity to house people overnight, due to budget cuts. This has caused a movement of people experiencing homelessness in all directions, including areas near campus.
City councilwoman Kate Burke said a possible reason why these people have been moving toward the Logan and Gonzaga areas is because places like the “Centennial Trail and Mission Park are good places for them to hang out,” and find cover.
“We see suspicious persons on a daily basis,” said Phillip Tyler, crime prevention and education officer for Campus Security and Public Safety. “We have had about 20 something transient or homeless on campus since the beginning of the year. One thing we have that’s really good is the partnership with Logan Neighborhood and the Gonzaga community. They are the eyes and ears and them reporting is very helpful.”
City councilman Mike Fagan said there are two huge encampments on Beacon Hill where people have been staying along the river and tree lines near the Centennial Trail, vacant parking lots with cover and parks and community gardens throughout this area of the city.
In terms of the Gonzaga campus Tyler said campus security sees people sleeping in construction areas, on lawns and in parking lots.
“I wouldn’t call this a crisis, because that means we wouldn’t have [seen] this coming. We absolutely saw this coming,” Burke said.
According to Burke, the housing situation is not good, and it makes it difficult for homeless people to have a chance of finding a place to live due to the .06 percent vacancy rate.
“We had a 14 percent increase in homelessness and by 2020, we will be 11,000 units short of affordable housing,” Burke said.
The lack of affordable housing could be due to restrictions and expenses building owners go through as well as previous issues landlords have had with tenants, which discourages people from provideing affordable housing, Fagan said.
The lack of housing has resulted in transient people finding their way onto GU’s campus and nearby places.
GU has an open campus, meaning GU is not gated or blocked from the community. Anyone is able to find their way onto campus without checking in anywhere.
“It’s so open they can be anywhere,” Tyler said.
To combat the housing issue, the City Council has been working toward providing options for the homeless and are working on a policy to vote on. The policy proposes to provide different housing options.
Burke did not support the downsizing of the House of Charity. She plans to propose policies that would implement temporary campsite locations to aid relief for the homeless. Ultimately, she said she would like shelters to be placed around the city, however, that would not be possible until 2019.
“We also need a ton more houses,” Burke said. “We have SNAP outreach people who go out and walk them through the process of housing but then they’re waiting three or four months to be able to find an actual place. So, we have things set in place that are working we just don’t have the available space for these people.”
To combat this issue, Burke is working on policy to provide, “tiny homes, like huts where it’s a temporary shelter space where everyone would get their own. It wouldn’t have water or electricity just a bed and storage space, but on the campus there’s a bathroom, shower, laundry facility, things like that as a temporary fix to this problem.”
Fagan said he would like to spread out and use warming centers as a 24/7 intake for the year.
Fagan has also reached out to smaller nongovernmental organizations and homelessness-serving centers to see if they will take in a certain percentage of the homeless population to help, “spread them out through the city,” to reduce the concentration in one area, as well as, increase the one-on-one availability of health and counseling specialists.
According to Fagan, this plan has the potential to bring the success rate of these homeless programs up to 65 percent and begin to provide a long-term fix for the homeless population.
“We are trying to address this issue properly rather than skimming over the issue,” Burke said.
The City Council is motivated to solve this issue and are hoping for feedback from the community.
In order to maintain the integrity of campus, CSPS collaborates with the Spokane Police Department to ensure student and campus safety.
“We provide trainings and safety talks as a regular occurrence and do proactive security walks, which provides a visual deterrent,” Tyler said. “We believe working in partnership with Spokane police, our witnesses and the community help us identify the problem.”
SPD regularly monitors homeless encampments near campus, near the river.
Despite the precautions taken to protect campus, Tyler said GU has always seen the impact of homelessness on Spokane due to campus’ proximity to downtown, the Centennial Trail and the river.
“[We’ll see them] first thing in the morning. They have been discovered by students or staff, as well as late in the evening,” Tyler said. “We also see panhandling during the middle of the day.”
In May, the city of Spokane reported an overall 11 percent increase of homelessness. Reports also showed a 15 percent rise of homelessness among veterans, a 73 percent increase of chronically homeless people and a 20 percent increase of unaccompanied youth. Of all the people counted in the city’s study, 73 percent were in emergency shelters, like the House of Charity.
Riley Utley is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: rileyutley.