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'We are at this tipping point': Spokane business leaders form group to address homelessness

Members of the group 'Hello For Good' held their first symposium on Monday to hear from a city that has already made big strides in tackling the problem: San Diego.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A new group of Spokane business leaders is trying to become part of the solution to homelessness in the city.

Members of the group ‘Hello For Good’ held their first symposium on Monday at the Davenport Grand Hotel to hear from San Diego city leaders.

Three guest speakers from San Diego spoke about their city's approach to homelessness and offered insight on what Spokane can do to address the growing issue.

Katy Bruya, co-chair of Hello For Good, said there is currently a lot of frustration among business owners in downtown Spokane.

"It feels like [Spokane] is not allowing for individuals to be given an opportunity to get off of the street and into shelters through the sit/lie ordinance issues," Bruya said. "We're hearing frustration from other business owners that the problem doesn't seem to be getting better, but seems to be worsening."

Rick Gentry, the former CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission, said he believes Spokane can learn from some of San Diego’s past successes.

"I think the community of Spokane identifying homelessness as a problem before it gets out of hand, targeting resources and programs and opportunities, and then dealing with it in a responsible fashion will help this community in the long run, rather than just looking the other way," Gentry said.

Gentry said Spokane and San Diego can also learn a lot from each other, adding that it is healthy for a community to look to others. He also believes there should be consistent accountability between city officials, business leaders, and residents.

"Not just those who are on the streets, but also those sitting in the safety of their own homes watching this on TV, [they] say, 'Well, that's not my problem,' or 'Somebody should do something about that,'" Gentry said. 

"There's accountability all around. It's really challenging work. There's nothing perfect about there's no perfect answers or silver bullet, but just with kind of a bulldog persistent approach, results can happen," Lucky Duck Foundation Executive Director Drew Moser echoed.

The Lucky Duck Foundation is a non-profit organization, focused on alleviating homelessness in San Diego, through high-impact programs like bridge shelters.
But both Moser and Gentry agree that for any solution to work, communities have to work together.

"What doesn't work is a lack of attention. What doesn't work is pointing a finger and blaming somebody else for it," Gentry said. "What does work, in my opinion, is the whole community coming together, public sector and private sector, ordinary citizens as well, in saying that this is a community problem, we've all got a stake in it, we all need to solve it."

According to Moser, many people believe simply adding more housing is the answer to the nation’s homelessness crisis. But he said his work with the Lucky Duck Foundation has proven there also need to be more short-term, immediate pathways to get those experiencing homelessness off the streets.

"You can't get tunnel vision on just the long-term solution," Moser added.

One of the most persistent issues Spokane faces is shelter resistance from within the homeless population. Moser says, "There has to be that balance of right level of outreach coupled with enforcement that creates the carrot stick and, and the right level of accountability to move people off the streets."

During Monday's symposium, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner was asked what he would have done differently in terms of addressing homelessness. Faulkner told the group that he would have started the process sooner.

That’s why Bruya says she’s eager to get started with the newly-formed group ‘Hello For Good,’ which first came together in September 2021.

"The immediate short-term need is focusing on making the shelter on East Trent successful," Bruya said. "And I think all of that will definitely happen because there's enough people involved who really want to make it right. We don't want downtown to become a Seattle or Portland, where we're actually seeing people leave those cities because they just can't take it anymore. We are at this tipping point, and now is the time to really make sure we go down the right path."

To learn more about 'Hello For Good' and their goals for addressing homelessness in Spokane, visit their website.

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