SPOKANE, Wash. -- The City of Spokane took complaints for dumping big rocks under the freeway downtown to force the homeless to move somewhere else.
The complaints led to a city forum on homelessness Monday night to try and come up with more practical solutions.
"We're trying really hard, but there aren't enough resources for the population that we're seeing," said City Council President Ben Stuckart.
Stuckart said Monday night's discussion was a good first step in the right direction. He said the discussion helped identify needs that are not currently being met among Spokane's homeless population. One of the biggest issues that came to light was the lack of affordable housing.
"Four hundred and fifty people in our community have housing vouchers and that's just as good as cash, but they can't find housing because the vacancy rates are so low,” Stuckart explained.
While the solution to more affordable housing is a long way off, the City Council is working to take steps immediately where it can. In the next two weeks, Stuckart said the council is working to fill a $37,000 gap in funding for a program called Hope Works that connects panhandlers with volunteer work and services to help them transform their lives. However, not everyone chooses to take advantage of the services provided.
Phil Altmeyer, the Executive Director at the Union Gospel Mission, said he worries those who choose not to get help give a bad name to all people in need. He sees hundreds of people every day who are really trying to change their life style.
“What my concern is that's not being talked about, if we don't address this issue we'll be like Portland and Seattle and as I left that meeting, I drove by several people that were out sleeping outside and it's a choice they're making,” said Altmeyer. “And it's a reflection on those 600 people that are saying we want help, we want to come into a shelter, we want something different.”
It is a discussion that needs to continue but the City Council said the discussion is already leading to positive changes.