The city of Spokane wants Blessings Under the Bridge
to move from the spot where it has provided homeless people with meals and other services every week for the past few years.
The nonprofit and its volunteers provide meals, pet food, groceries, hygiene products, clothing and more Wednesday nights at 6 under the I-90 overpass at Fourth and McClellan.
But while the events help hundreds of people every
Young Kwak photo
Volunteers serve people at a Blessings Under the Bridge event in 2008.
week, which the city supports, there also have been reports of aggressive behavior, loitering before and after the events, and litter left in the area, which the city pays crews to clean up, says Jonathan Mallahan, director of the city's neighborhood and business services department.
The city has asked Blessings to address those issues and concerns, but since the problems have persisted, the city sent the nonprofit a letter on Friday, May 12, asking them to find a new spot within 120 days, and offering to help them do so.
"There’s no question in our minds, they’re doing things that really show people who are in need that there are people in this community that care for them and want to improve their lives," Mallahan says. "We fully support Blessings’ mission. The reality is, though, serving hundreds of people on a weekly basis around transportation infrastructure like that is challenging to do."
In addition to the concerns listed above, Mallahan says some nearby businesses have hired extra security and have had to clean up after events. Some have even reported that their employees feel threatened on a regular basis.
"I want to be clear. I do not think that there is data that says people who experience homelessness are particularly violent. That’s just not the case," Mallahan says. "People who are homeless are vulnerable and suffering, and need a compassionate response."
That said, an increasing number of people who are homeless are also suffering from behavioral health issues, which can involve behavior that's threatening or distressing to others, Mallahan says.
"So there really is a perception of a lack of safety there," he says.
Depending on where the organization moves its event, the city may be able to help upgrade a location or facility with some grant money. The amount of grant money available will depend on where that new location or facility is.
One option that's been discussed is to partner with Catholic Charities to host their events near the House of Charity, about four blocks from the current site.
But would moving to that spot get rid of the impacts that people associate with the weekly event, or simply relocate them?
"The perspective of the city is we can better mitigate secondary impacts if we’re focusing on one area, rather than diverging resources and trying to respond to multiple areas," Mallahan says. "Right now, we're kind of spreading the peanut butter a little thin."
A board member for Blessings Under the Bridge says the organization plans to meet Friday and declined to comment until after they've had the chance to talk about what's going on.