by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & A dozen organizations that offer help to homeless people split $650,000 in grant monies this week channeled through a new program championed by State Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.

Ormsby told the regional politicians and agency heads gathered at the Chase Gallery in City Hall on Monday evening that he had a practical reason for pushing homeless funding.

"I am far more likely to be a beneficiary of these services," he said.

The funds are being collected and channeled through new legislation, a House Bill called the Homeless Housing and Assistance Act (or 2163, as it already seems to be known in shorthand).

The act applies a $10 surcharge to every real estate transaction in the state. Each county collects the revenue, keeps 60 percent and sends the remaining 40 percent to the state.

Spokane County collected $650,000 this year, which was shared with 14 programs that offer services to homeless people. Twenty-two proposals were submitted, and a task force handled disbursement.

The 2163 Task Force awarded $145,739 to the Salvation Army and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP) for rent assistance.

Helping poor families stay out of the homeless shelters in the first place makes the program a critical one, Gerriann Armstrong, social services director of the Salvation Army, said Monday night.

"This helps us help those families who are teetering on the brink ... they can barely afford to pay their rent and then they need to repair their car, or they have a large utility bill or a large doctor bill that is in garnishment," Armstrong said. "If they can fix their car, they can keep going to work and keep paying their bills."

"What we are finding is it is a lot cheaper to keep people in their apartments," said Maj. John Chamness, the Inland Northwest Regional Coordinator for the Salvation Army.

The next-largest award from the 2163 funding went to Catholic Charities. A wild cheer and applause swept the Chase Gallery when it was announced the money would keep the Catholic Charities shelter open year-round.

And this cheer came from a pretty hard-boiled crowd who spend their days trying to help people who have been beaten by spouses, who have drug, alcohol or mental illness problems.

"Currently we close in April, so the sleeping program is shut down from May to September," said Gene DiRe of Catholic Charities. "Being open year-round was our number one priority."

The lack of shelter beds around Spokane was exposed last summer after the horrific death of a disabled homeless man, One-legged Doug Dawson, who was set on fire and killed as he slept behind a downtown building.

This alone was reason enough for the cheer.

But DiRe also noted that without House of Charity's shelter being open to add to the bed total, "Folks don't have a place to sleep and perhaps they wind up in the emergency rooms more, or law enforcement is affected. It has a bigger impact," he says.

House of Charity was also awarded nearly $40,000 for a separate program that helps move clients back into apartments and helps them with job skills, money-management skills, social skills for being a good neighbor and treatment for addictions or illnesses.

"This is a great program," Ormsby said of the Homeless Housing and Assistance Act. "This relieves the real pressures real people have in their real lives.

"My dad used to say a measure of an affluent society is how well it treats its poor. In the world's most affluent society, it is unconscionable that there are 25,000 homeless in Washington," Ormsby said.

He praised the cooperation between sometimes sparring local governments on this bill, acknowledging in particular County Commissioner Mark Richard and Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession, and he said the focus remains on helping the poor among us.

"There is always more need than resources. We are not done," Ormsby said.

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About The Author

Kevin Taylor

Kevin Taylor is a staff writer for The Inlander. He has covered politics, the environment, police and the tribes, among many other things.