Homicides are a very rare occurrence in downtown Spokane, but even one is way too many. In recent weeks we cannot help but wonder if individuals would be alive today if Spokane had stronger systems in place and a greater number of police officers engaged in proactive community policing initiatives.
I suspect we all recognize that we are not alone, in that our downtown is among many across the nation that is teetering between a dynamic vibrant core full of life and investment, and one that is unwelcoming and that presents the appearance of being unsafe.
In my opinion, we lack sufficient services for our mentally ill, treatment for our addicts, jail space for criminals, police on the street and an overarching philosophy in the delivery of services that the right thing to do is to offer, and when necessary, compel people to get the help they need vs. making them comfortable on our streets. We need to strive for tough love solutions for those on the margins that are not capable of making the hard decision to get help, rather than allowing our downtown to become overrun with camps and addicts that prey on others to feed their addictions.
Certainly there are misperceptions that lump all homeless individuals together and our solutions must be based on a continuum that values this reality. Crime is a result of many factors, and only a small percentage of our homeless people are criminals. However, conditions that lead to homelessness, including mental illness and addiction, can lead to erratic, nuisance, socially unacceptable and yes, illegal activity; all that must have be met with solutions. We need stronger federal policies and funding in the areas of mental health, addiction, and public safety.
There is a growing cry for greater expectations and accountability from those receiving public support. Expectations and accountability help build self-worth and help people to a better place. In addition there needs to be policy consideration at the national level that allows for local deference to serving our local citizens so that states like Idaho and many others cannot abrogate their responsibility that then drives people to come to Washington State – and Spokane specifically – for the generous level of services we are trying to provide for those in need.
The business community has a stake, and a roll to play in these ever-complicated issues. We will be hosting a panel of experts on homelessness on December 4 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. at the McGinnity Room, and are respectfully requesting your attendance. We have begun circling back with our key stakeholders to hone in on the gaps and solutions that need to be at the forefront of discussions with our elected officials and your perspective is important.
The DSP recently received permission from Mayor Condon to reignite the Task Force we formed some five years ago, that while very effective in advancing some key initiatives around these issues – such as the downtown precinct, changes in local ordinances, low barrier housing, SOAR and Hope Works – has not been active in recent years.
With the national drug addiction epidemic and the transition of shelter space in downtown coupled with the recent ruling on the Boise Sit and Lie by the 9th Circuit Court, we are in for some very challenging times. As a city, downtown is exceptionally fortunate to have an Administration, Council and the countless and selfless employees and volunteers who are committed to solving these issues. However, we must be intentional. We must find common ground as a community around sound best practices that honor both the human being that is homeless and the community that is trying to serve them.
We recognize our city is in far better straights than many, and that is because so many are so dedicated to the challenges we face but that will not continue without a comprehensive plan to address gaps in resources, a plan that raises expectations, opportunity and accountability to instill the sense of hope and self-worth that drives better outcomes and keeps our city amazing.
Mark Richard, President
Downtown Spokane Partnership
Downtown Spokane Business Improvement District