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Small Victories 

by Doug Nadvornick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne afternoon last week, Spokane Mental Health outreach caseworker Chrystal Alderman was "out in the bush," as she calls her twice-weekly forays to hidden sleeping spots. She hiked down an icy path to a landing below the deck of a downtown bridge.





"Hello?" she called out. "Anyone here?" Alderman climbed onto a narrow concrete walkway and peered into a hidden nook. A young woman with broad shoulders and a mop of dark, curly hair sat up in her maroon sleeping bag. She was wearing a lightweight sweat jacket. Two pairs of shoes and two small plastic bags filled with aluminum cans sat nearby.





The women recognized each other. The camper, 19-year-old Elizabeth, was a client of one of Alderman's colleagues. Elizabeth had recently failed to show up for a therapy appointment and her caseworker worried that something bad had happened. "No," said Elizabeth. "There was just some personal stuff, and I had to get out of town."





Alderman asked Elizabeth if she would like to make another appointment and find shelter for the night. Elizabeth agreed and Alderman called Susan King, Elizabeth's mental health caseworker. Within 10 minutes, a smiling King had arrived and climbed into the enclosure to get reacquainted with Elizabeth. The young woman assured them she would leave her camping spot in search of dinner and a shelter bed once her sleeping boyfriend awakened.


One small victory.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ome laws are so important that they're forever remembered by their bill numbers. Spokane homeless advocates often refer to HB (House Bill) 2163, approved in 2005 by the Washington Legislature. The law created a new funding source for homeless programs: a $10 surcharge on real estate transactions that are recorded by county auditors.





"I'm pleased we could find new money to attack this problem," said the bill's sponsor, Representative Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), "instead of just shifting around resources."





In 2006, the surcharge raised about $12 million. Forty percent of that went to the state's homeless programs, the rest went to counties. Spokane's share was about $650,000, which was divided among 14 programs. (See accompanying story.)





This year, with the strong economy and a projected state budget surplus, the legislature may earmark more money for homeless programs. "Homelessness is absolutely getting more attention," says Ormsby.





Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way) proposes to increase the surcharge approved in 2005 from $10 to $20 and give counties 90 percent of the $10 increase. The bill (HB 1115) was to be voted on in committee earlier this week.





That money could be used to build more shelters, but many homeless advocates say the real need is for support services for people who are moved off the streets into transitional housing. "People who come from mental health institutions stop taking their meds if there's no one to monitor them," says Lori Meloy, who operates the shelter at the Salvation Army Family Emergency (SAFE) Center. "And for people who are released from jails, $40 and a bus ticket aren't enough to help them get back into society."





Spokane County recently applied unsuccessfully for $1.5 million of the state's share of the 2163 money to help Eastern State Hospital patients and jail inmates make the transition to new lives after their releases. County community services officials say they may apply again later this year.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ee Ann Winters was the perfect candidate for that kind of program. After 10 months behind bars, Winters was released in September 2005 from the Pine Lodge facility in Medical Lake.





She spent her first night of freedom in downtown Spokane's Hope House shelter. Within a week and a half, she'd moved into her own apartment at Hope House. She has a case manager who is helping her to manage her life and kick a drug habit.





"For me to go from homeless to a new life outside of prison would not have worked without the help and positive support I get here," she says.


Winters has graduated from Gonzaga University's Campus Kitchens program and volunteers at a downtown soup kitchen. She hopes to start a new career soon in the food service industry.


Another small victory.





B 2163 had several other provisions; one sets a statewide goal of reducing Washington's, and individual counties', homeless populations by 50 percent during the next 10 years.





"Two years ago, people said, 'Are you crazy? We can't do that'," says Sheila Morley, emergency assistance program manager at the Spokane Valley Community Center and a member of the Spokane Homeless Coalition leadership team. "Maybe with the progress we're seeing at the state level, we can."





Others are skeptical.





"The economy has a lot to do with reaching that," says Dawn Kilmer, who directs the transitional program at the SAFE Center. "What kinds of jobs will be available for these people? We need more jobs for lower-skill workers. Those kinds of full-time jobs are just not out there."





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & ederal and state money for homeless programs isn't coming without strings. In addition to reducing their homeless populations by 50 percent, counties that accept money from the state must also write 10-year homeless plans. The state reviews the counties' progress each year.





The federal government requires counties to create 18-month Continuum of Care homeless plans and renew them each year.





"What this does is create some sense of accountability," says Ormsby. "We're at a point where we have to be conservative with our money, to sustain programs. We're asking counties to show us how they'll spend the money we give them."





"This will make us more responsible as providers, and I support that," says Bob Peeler, senior family development specialist for Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs (SNAP). "What I worry about is the politics that goes with that."





Peeler says the state and federal agencies that grant money can't even agree what "homeless" means. "I've seen seven definitions," he says, "two of them within the same program."





Some providers are disturbed that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) doesn't count as homeless people who are "doubled-up" -- those who live with others because they have no place else to go.





"That hurts us as we try to get an accurate count of the homeless, especially in rural areas," says Jen Davis Nielsen from Lutheran Community Services and a member of the leadership team of the Spokane Homeless Coalition. "It means there are more homeless out there than we think."





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen Spokane Homeless Coalition members crowded into an old downtown church gymnasium last week, talk turned to the Jan. 25 "One-Day Count" of the homeless. The annual census is another requirement of HB 2163.





The count felt "different" this year, said many who participated. "It had this weird energy. It felt like there was no excitement," said Amy Jones from the city of Spokane's Human Services Department.





Some blamed the activity from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Others cited a lack of media attention or more mundane reasons. "The forms were too long," complained SNAP's Peeler.





The two-page, small-type document asked people for demographic information about themselves, their disabilities, their income sources and reasons for becoming homeless. That information is entered into the city's Homeless Management Information System. City officials promise confidentiality, "but then we ask people to sign the document," says Peeler. "A lot of people just avoided us that day."





Some providers used incentives, such as fast-food coupons and bus passes, to lure people.





City officials acknowledge the final count for the day will show only a small percentage of the area's homeless population. A more accurate count is reflected in the city's 2006 Continuum of Care report, which notes that about 6,000 people were homeless in 2000. That number increased to about 7,300 in 2004, then dropped to 6,024 in 2005. City officials doubt that means the homeless population is actually decreasing, but they admit that they don't know.





What they do know is that, with their database, "we're better at tracking people and avoiding duplicate counts," says city Human Services Director Jerrie Allard.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & utreach worker Carmen Jacoby from the Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS) takes her own informal census every day.





Some days she finds no one, but early one morning last week, she was descending several sets of stairs near the Maple Street Bridge when she was met on a landing by Dave and "Uncle John."





"We're just sitting here watching the squirrels," smoking cigarettes and enjoying a beer, said John. Jacoby handed them each a pair of white socks and ran back up to her car to retrieve gloves for each of them. The men had spent the previous night at the House of Charity, but said they sometimes sleep under bridges.





Others live in relative luxury at camping sites, as Jacoby found later that morning. In a brushy area next to Riverside Memorial Park, she spotted a blue tent that wasn't hidden well by a denuded tree. A few yards away, two bicycles were partially covered. There was a small wooden picnic table and trash everywhere.





As she approached the site, Jacoby called out. A man named Eric poked his head from the tent. He said he and his girlfriend had come to sleep the previous night and that they were preparing to head back to town to see his son in school. Jacoby handed them socks, bus passes and her business card, in case they needed help.





Under the city's anti-camping ordinance, this site is illegal, although police Cpl. Tom Lee says the law hasn't been enforced since it was approved in 2004. "We still check on the camps and move 'em on if they're causing problems," says Lee. "But enforcing the ordinance is the last tool in our box because we're just, frankly, too busy to make it a higher priority."


any social service providers here believe it's na & iuml;ve to think that homelessness will be eliminated soon. But they point to the signs of progress.





Spokane city and county are paying a handful of shelters to stay open when the temperature falls to 5 degrees or colder so that street people can stay warm for a few hours. City Council members are considering a proposal that would change the trigger temperature for those warming centers to 15 degrees.





The Union Gospel Mission recently opened a new emergency shelter for women and their children in an old motel just east of downtown Spokane.


The Salvation Army will soon move its SAFE House shelter and transitional housing to a newer facility on its campus in the Gonzaga district.





Most of all, says Jen Davis Nielsen, the holes in the safety net are shrinking. "[Social service providers] are becoming more connected," she says. "We work well together, we're not territorial and that brings me a lot of hope."





NEW FUNDING NEW ENERGY


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hile legislators in Olympia debate whether to increase the amount of money given to homeless aid under HB 2163, the first checks since the bill's passage in 2005 are going out to local charities.





Last September, the city of Spokane -- the administrator of the state grant -- received 22 proposals from various nonprofits throughout the county. A citizen-based task force commissioned by Mayor Dennis Hession reviewed and rated the proposals, then brought their recommendations to Spokane County Commissioners and to the city councils of Spokane and Spokane Valley.





Some proposals fared better than others. Of the 22 submitted, eight were rejected outright. The 14 successful proposals were given, on average, about 75 percent of the funds they asked for, with a bid by Spokane Mental Health Outreach only scoring about 20 percent of its requested amount and proposals like Spokane County's (to provide outreach and rental assistance to rural areas) getting full funding.





One of the biggest beneficiaries of the state money was the Catholic-run House of Charity, whose proposal was one of the few to get 100 percent of what it asked for -- with the second-highest price tag. The money will allow the shelter to keep its sleeping facilities open year-round (they're normally open from October through April), potentially averting the conflicts that have arisen each summer since 2004, when the city banned homeless camping.





The organization also scored a $40,000 grant that, says program coordinator Mike Cain, will enable them to hire a case manager to provide supportive services to the 21 formerly homeless people they have housed. "A lot of people don't realize that when you've been homeless, you lose those skills the rest of us take for granted, that enable us to stay in housing," says Cain. "How to buy groceries, how to keep our apartments clean, how to get the medical care and mental health care we need ... [The case manager will provide] all the assistance they need to remain in their housing."





Transitions, an organization that offers programs for women and children, also received 100 percent of the funding it requested for a proposal to expand its Medicaid Therapeutic Child Care Program, a kind of preventive therapy for kids (32 months to 5 years of age) with full-blown mental health disorders. Transitions has one of only five contracts in the state to carry out the service. The $33,000, says executive director Julie Dhatt-Honekamp, could allow Transitions to bring 10 more kids into the program.





The organization also received $36,000 to hire a full-time chemical dependency specialist and $17,000 to boost service and extend the hours of the Women's Hearth downtown.





The biggest beneficiary of this year's grants, though, was a joint proposal by the Salvation Army and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP), which received $145,000 to spend on homeless prevention and rental and utility assistance. SNAP's Bob Peeler says his organization will use the money to provide additional case management assistance (education, provision of resources) to needy families helped by the Salvation Army.





"It's an art form, finding housing in Spokane if you're low-income," he says. Working with families to find permanent solutions to their housing needs, teaching them how to budget effectively, informing them of their rights as residents, he says, becomes far more important than just simply helping them pay the rent. "If you can't afford next month's rent, it's not really helpful throwing money at it," he says. Something more needs to be done.





Because the total amount of state aid available to the county is dependent on the success of the real estate market, it will vary from year to year. But many agencies say they're grateful for the funding they received and intend to reapply for more next September.





-- JOEL SMITH





SPOKANE GETS CONNECTED


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hile most of us are familiar with 9-1-1 telephone service for emergencies, 2-1-1 is still mostly a mystery in Eastern Washington. Now it's available to residents of Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry counties.





"2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember phone number that gives us access to health and human services in the community," says David Panken, the CEO for Spokane Mental Health.





Operators (or Information and Resource Referral Specialists, as they're known) for 2-1-1 dispense contact information about agencies that provide everything from homeless shelters to rental assistance. "Across the state, housing -- especially shelters -- and utilities are the most common categories," says Jan Dobbs, Spokane's 2-1-1 director and the crisis response services director at Spokane Mental Health.





Residents of the four northeastern counties can call Spokane's 2-1-1 system using a land line. Cell phone service to 2-1-1 isn't yet reliable and may be answered by an operator at one of Washington's seven other call centers or in another state, says Michelle Morris, Spokane's 2-1-1 call center manager. She says people can also access the service by calling a toll-free number (1-866-904-


9060).





Spokane's 2-1-1 center has been open to the public since December, but the service didn't become popular until a media event two weeks ago. Now, says Morris, her office's two operators answer more than 100 calls some days.





The 2-1-1 service was started by United Way of Atlanta in 1997 and has since been adopted in 41 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and parts of Canada. United Way officials say 196 million people in the U.S. now have access. Morris says 2-1-1 is especially valuable after major disasters like Hurricane Katrina.





"Everything was wiped out, and 2-1-1 became the centralized point of contact," she says. "It was the place where people could find out where they could get their Social Security checks. There was even a list where families could leave their locations in case friends or loved ones called to find out where they were."


In the Northwest, Idaho has had 2-1-1 service since 2002. The Washington Legislature approved 2-1-1 service in 2003, but it didn't become available until 2006.





"Washington took its time to build an integrated system which gives everyone in the state access to the same information," says Morris. That means operators in Spokane can provide information about services in central or western Washington, as well as for the four-county regional service area.





"They can even transfer someone to one of more than 450 member agencies in the state," says Morris. "It's seamless for the caller."





Spokane Mental Health and United Way operate 2-1-1 in northeastern Washington with money from a Gates Foundation grant and the Legislature. The 2-1-1 umbrella organization, the Washington Information Network, is asking the Legislature and Congress for money to expand the service beyond its regular Monday-through-Friday, 8 am-to-6 pm hours.


-- DOUG NADVORNICK





MEALS FOR THE HUNGRY


Sunday


Breakfast


9 am: Ready 2 Serve Ministries





Lunch


Noon: Union Gospel Mission


12:30 pm: Spokane Valley United Methodist (last Sunday of the month)


1 pm: St. Ann's Church





Dinner


3 pm: New Hope Urban Center


(dinner at 5 pm)


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission


7 pm: City Gate


(last Sunday of each month only)





Monday


Breakfast


7:30 am: House of Charity


(coffee and donuts)


8 am: Central Methodist Church


8:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)





Lunch


11 am: House of Charity


11 am: Lady of Lourdes


(sandwiches)


11:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)


Noon: Union Gospel Mission





Dinner


3 pm: New Hope Urban Center


(dinner at 5 pm)


4 pm: Lady of Lourdes


4:30 pm: Central Methodist Church


5:30 pm: Overcomers Outreach


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission


6 pm: St. Ann's Church


(families and pregnant women only; call 456-7106)


6:30 pm: Food Not Bombs


(vegan food)





Tuesday


Breakfast


7:30 am: House of Charity


(coffee and donuts)


8 am: Central Methodist Church


8:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)





Lunch


10 am: City Gate


(coffee and donuts)


11 am: House of Charity


11 am: Lady of Lourdes (sandwiches)


11:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)


Noon: Union Gospel Mission





Dinner


4 pm: Lady of Lourdes


4:15 pm: Women and Children's Free Restaurant


(women and children only)


5 pm: Emmanuel Lutheran Church


5 pm: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church


(last Tuesday of every month only; call 926-7966)


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission


7 pm: Cup of Cool Water


(age 22 and younger only)





Wednesday


Breakfast


7:30 am: House of Charity


(coffee and donuts)


8 am: Central Methodist Church


8:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)





Lunch


10 am: City Gate


(coffee and donuts)


11 am: House of Charity


11 am: Lady of Lourdes


(sandwiches)


11:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)


Noon: Union Gospel Mission





Dinner


4 pm: City Gate


4 pm: Lady of Lourdes


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission


7 pm: City Gate





Thursday


Breakfast


7:30 am: House of Charity


(coffee and donuts)


8 am: Central Methodist Church


8:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)





Lunch


10 am: City Gate


(coffee and donuts)


11 am: House of Charity


11 am: Lady of Lourdes


(sandwiches)


11:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)


Noon: Union Gospel Mission





Dinner


3 pm: New Hope Urban Center


(dinner at 5 pm)


4 pm: Lady of Lourdes


4:15 pm: Women and Children's Free Restaurant


(women and children only)


5 pm: SNAP Sack Dinner


(outreach from 4-6 pm, including CVM and Food Stamp applications)


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission





Friday


Breakfast


7:30 am: House of Charity


(coffee and donuts)


8:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)





Lunch


10 am: City Gate


(coffee and donuts)


11 am: House of Charity


11 am: Lady of Lourdes


(sandwiches)


11:30 am: Mid-City Concerns


(ages 60 and older only)


Noon: Union Gospel Mission


1 pm: Women and Children's Free Restaurant


(women and children only)





Dinner


3 pm: New Hope Urban Center


(dinner at 5 pm)


4 pm: Lady of Lourdes


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission


7 pm: City Gate





Saturday


Breakfast


7:30 am: House of Charity


(coffee and donuts)


8 am: City Gate


(first four Saturdays of the month)


9 am: Mid-City Concerns


(first Saturday of the month only)


9 am: St. Peters Lutheran Church


(third Saturday of the month only; handicap accessible)





Lunch


11 am: House of Charity


Noon: Union Gospel Mission





Dinner


3 pm: New Hope Urban Center


(dinner at 5 pm)


6 pm: Union Gospel Mission


6:30 pm: Food Not Bombs


(vegan food)


7 pm: City Gate


7 pm: En Christo (sack dinners and coffee served at the Laundromat)





Source:


Spokane Homeless Coalition

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