Pastor and organizer elicit needs of West Central
Housing was among three issues—with health care and jobs—that emerged from a listening campaign of the Spokane Alliance last summer, said lead organizer Katie Zinler.
In those sessions, she said she way the "grittiness, heart, power, potential and anger that make for good organizing."
Through the Spokane Alliance, members can work on all three issues as an organization, creating strategies and actions. The alliance drew 217 to a fall candidate forum on housing and homelessness.
West Central Spokane chose to focus on housing efforts and formed the Housing Equity Action Research Team (HEART).
Health care concerns—expense, navigating the system and the lack of mental health care—were addressed by others. The alliance has created a workshop on prescription drugs costs and is offering it to congregations.
Creating jobs in building trades has long been a focus of the alliance. Seven years ago, the City of Spokane voted to require contractors for city building projects use apprentices as 15 percent of their employees, to train more people to enter good careers with health care and retirement benefits.
"To build infrastructure, we need a trained work force," Katie said. "The city monitors contractors to be sure they meet the standard."
In the fall of 2018, Katie started to work with the Dinner Table program of the West Central Episcopal Mission to see what organizing could do for those coming to the meal. Those interested stayed for a listening session.
Gathering with participants at the Dinner Table, Katie and United Methodist pastor Katy Shedlock set up listening sessions, after the dinner.
"We asked what one thing would they change to make a difference in their lives. They said they needed more stable, dignified, affordable housing in West Central Spokane," Katie said.
To research what actions are appropriate, the Housing Equity Action Research Team (HEART) meets once or twice a month.
Katie described the principles of organizing.
"The Spokane Alliance allows me to work on the big issues of injustice, led and driven by people experiencing them," she said. "Faith communities want to do that, and the Spokane Alliance gives them a way to do it."
Katie said that about half of those involved in HEART have housing and half have inadequate housing or live outside.
"Some live in housing with no hot water or a broken toilet, but are afraid to call the landlord, because they have too many people living with them," she said.
HEART did a survey of the neighborhood and found many vacant properties in an area of people without homes. They found 34 within a few blocks of the West Central Episcopal Mission at Elm and Dean.
The alliance has helped them do research for information they need to develop an action plan.
They looked at funding sources and found that because of the Kendall Yards development in the neighborhood, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district they created includes West Central Spokane.
"TIF funds are tax revenue created by developers. Excess tax can go into improvements in a neighborhood, like paving streets and public infrastructure, but can't be used for affordable housing," said Katie.
The team began working to change that on the state level.
"The Spokane Alliance has a culture of living and learning together," Katie said, commenting that participants learned from the process of developing and advocating for the bill,"
Katie said she likes organizing because of her Jewish heritage.
"My great grandparents were refugees fleeing Russia because of the pogroms against Jews. My grandmother was the child of immigrants in New York City. My grandfather sold vegetables from a cart there during the Depression," she said.
While she did not experience those struggles, her parents taught her that she had an obligation to make sure people have opportunities to live healthy, happy, successful lives.
"In Maryland, I worked with refugees fleeing violence in El Salvador," she said. "I saw my family history in their strength. I knew that after a few generations, I was able to be free, because we have democracy."
Katie spent her first 18 years in New Jersey before she studied sociology, anthropology and history at Swarthmore University in Pennsylvania. After earning a bachelor's degree in 2011, she went to Washington D.C. and worked for three years with Jews United for Justice, a Jewish community organizing group.
From 2014 to 2017, she worked with Action in Montgomery in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, as is the Spokane Alliance.
She and her husband, who met in Jews United for Justice, took a road trip around the U.S. in 2017 to find a "purple place that was politically mixed" to make their new home. They found Spokane. He is using his organizing experience with the Washington State Federation of Employees Union.
Katie, who serves on the Board of Temple Beth Shalom, said congregations and community groups want to ensure that people have opportunities.
"The best way to do that is to keep our democratic culture. As a person of a religious minority living in an area of white supremacy, I have concern about the need to keep extremism in check," she said.
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This is the first of two articles in a series on the West Central Episcopal Mission.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, April, 2020