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Spokane Alliance identifies pressures on families

Over a six-month Season of Listening and Solidarity, area faith, labor and education organizations in the Spokane Alliance gathered in small groups to hear how members are facing hard times because of foreclosure, unemployment, mental health issues, unpaid overtime and a lack of affordable child care, housing and health care.

Wim Mauldin
Wim Mauldin, Spokane Alliance

“It is difficult to feel hopeful in the midst of these pressures, especially when families often are under multiple expressions of them,” said Wim Mauldin, lead organizer. 

In one-to-one conversations after worship or work, participants share life experiences and what brought them to their current place in life.  Then each tells about public pressures that most impact them and their families. 

“These seasons produce a sense of hope, he said.

People feel free to share, because, as one participant said, “Here it isn’t a matter whether you have pressures. It’s about which are hitting you right now.”

A member of Covenant United Methodist Church recently moved back after living in British Columbia for several years.  This woman immediately realized the limitations of the American health care system. 

“It’s not just a problem of health care,” she said.  “Children without insurance cannot play in after-school sports.  People are tied to their jobs for fear of losing health care, and those with pre-existing conditions, like my husband, fear not being able to have health insurance.”

One member of Liberty Park United Methodist Church, has been unable to find a full-time job in Spokane since she graduated from high school nearly five years ago.  The first year after graduating, she worked part time at the new Subway in Davenport.

When her family needed to move to Spokane, she looked for work here. In spite of excellent references, she could not find a full time job. She ended up with three part-time jobs that did not add up to 40 hours a week.

Spokane stores hire 30 part-time employees to cover 10 full-time jobs and none pay benefits.

The schedule changes week to week, so she can’t do anything on her day off. Today she works part time at a job that fluctuates from 20- to 30-hours per week without benefits. 

In addition to Covenant United Methodist, which had their “Fall Formation” conversations at the end of last year, other congregations and unions have organized similar conversations among their members. 

Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ, Liberty Park United Methodist, the Spokane Education Association and Laborers Local 238 are a few of the participating organizations. 

Ryan Palmer, Westminster UCC Listening Season organizer, noted, “People are surprised when we receive responses from all the organizations.  They see that we face similar public pressures. 

People in congregations struggle with debt.  Facing these pressures together reminds us that being the people of God is about facing challenges together,” he said. 

Issues the alliance takes up require the power of its many institutions and allies, acting together to make needed changes.   

About 170 members from 20 alliance organizations are meeting May 9 for a Discernment Assembly to compile lists of public pressures they face and to find who will work on each one.  In open discussion, they will hear stories behind the pressures and how they impact real people. 

“People vote for issue areas most deeply and broadly felt by putting a sticker with their names on paper on the wall,” said Wim.  “The three or four top issue areas will determine problems the alliance will research and act on in the coming year.

Many interests surfaced by the process are not taken to the alliance, but create the action agenda for individual organizations,” he said.  “Each organization has its independent mission and agenda.  One congregation has taken up housing issues downtown.  A parents’ group has put a stoplight on a busy intersection in their neighborhood.”

The alliance will hold an appetizer-and-beverage fund-raising event, “Charting a New Future for Greater Spokane,” from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 24, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4340 W. Fort Wright Dr.  At this gathering, the alliance will present its new “Agenda for the Common Good” and testimonies of people affected by the issue areas. 

Community members will have an opportunity to contribute their suggestions about how to change public policy and what the priority issues are. 

The Rev. Deb Conklin, pastor of Liberty Park United Methodist, said, “That night, there will be many creative and knowledgeable people from the community who want to attack these community problems.  We will also look for partners in the actions we undertake in each issue area.”

For information, call 532-1688 or visit www.spokanealliance.org.