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Empire Health Foundation details homelessness action plans for Department of Commerce funding

The Washington State Department of Commerce promised $500,000 to Empire Health Foundation to coordinate outreach and engagement services for Spokane homeless.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Washington State Department of Commerce announced it would be funding the first steps in Spokane’s plan to address homelessness. 

Commerce is promising $500,000 to the Empire Health Foundation to coordinate what’s next for the people living at the homeless encampment near I-90. 

The president of the Empire Health Foundation Zeke Smith said the first step is to work with non-profits and create an operations proposal. Then, the search is on to find potential shelter spaces. 

Smith said helping to solve Spokane's homelessness situation plays into Empire Health's mission.

“One of the responsibilities and opportunities we have is to consider where health issues are most significant," Smith said. "And that's what first engaged us in wanting to work and figure out what our role could be in addressing the homeless issue, that is such an acute crisis, really, in our community at this moment.” 

Smith said the funds will be used to coordinate outreach and engagement services.

“The definition of outreach and engagement is part of what we'll be engaging with service providers in, at this point, to really identify how do you meaningfully move with individuals into better options? And ideally, how do you do that in a way that is sustainable as well,” Smith said. 

July 2022, the city of Spokane submitted a $25 million dollar plan to the Department of Commerce. 

The proposal laid out how Spokane County leaders plan to address homelessness in the community. 

Smith said the $500,000 comes from that pool of funds. 

“This felt like a place where we can use our resources effectively, to try to really bring people together to build off improvements in our system, and to specifically address how we use these dollars for the purpose that they're designated, which is to move camp help residents to better housing options,” Smith said. 

He said it would be ideal to move the plan forward before the end of the summer, but people shouldn’t expect the camp to be gone right away.

It may take more time to find a place to meet the required needs and more support from the community. 

"We probably all want to see significant movement of individuals from the camp in the next few months," Smith started. "But the question of whether or not we've completed the work yet, is really a function of how much we as a community can come together with the right sorts of options to address their needs," Smith finished. 

Smith said stepping up in this way will help provide that initial structure and support to move Spokane’s homeless population into better housing.  

He said the Empire Health Foundation is not planning to serve in this role forever. 

Smith said the foundation will connect with non-profits and submit an operations plan to the Department of Commerce within the next two weeks. 

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