'My Road Leads Home' series features Homeless Connect
To inform the community of the hidden homelessness of families, Maurice Smith, executive director of Rising River Media and member of the Spokane Homeless Connect Committee, is producing a second documentary on homelessness in Spokane.
The first documentary in the "My Road Leads Home" series of documentaries on homelessness in Spokane covered the 2019 Spokane Homeless Connect, an annual one-day, one-stop resource event bringing together resource providers under one roof to serve people either experiencing homelessness or living "on the bubble" or edge—one missed paycheck, rent payment or auto repair—of being forced into homelessness.
"We have, however, more struggling families than homeless individuals living on the streets," said Maurice, who recently compiled statistics from the State Department of Education and local shelters.
The 2019 Point in Time survey found 1,309 homeless people on the streets, but schools have reported in 2016, 2017 and 2018 an average of 3,353 homeless children, who with their parents and siblings make up more than 4,800 family members who are experiencing homelessness.
The new documentary is "My Road Leads Home: The Hidden Homeless." It focuses on families experiencing homelessness.
In June 2019, Maurice interviewed City of Spokane homeless service managers and shelter operators at the House of Charity, Union Gospel Mission, Family Promise, the Salvation Army, St. Margaret's, YFA Connections, and Volunteers of America's Crosswalk and Hope House to determine the number of non-duplicated homeless people.
When he combined shelter numbers with school students and families, he discovered that the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Greater Spokane averaged 11,541 over the past three years.
Reflecting the increasing need for services, the 2020 Spokane Homeless Connect, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 30, will be held at the Spokane Convention Center rather than at the Salvation Army. With 15,000 square feet, that location will give 75 service providers space to meet the needs of the larger number of people who are expected to come. Last January's Connect drew 541 attendees seeking services.
The Spokane Valley Homeless Connect, which was held for the second year in September, is geared more for homeless families, he said.
"Homelessness is a subterranean river running through our community," Maurice said. "Families need to know we care. As Christians, we are responsible to act."
Maurice "has skin" in homeless concerns. He knows about homelessness from his own experience.
He grew up in North Carolina and graduated with a degree in classics—Greek—in 1976 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Planning to go to seminary, he worked two years on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in San Bernadino, Calif., where he met his wife, Gale. She was born in Sandpoint and grew up in Sprague, graduating from high school in Spokane.
They married and moved to Colorado, where Maurice graduated from Denver Baptist Seminary with a master's in systematic theology and philosophy of religion in 1982. They settled in Spokane to be near her parents. Maurice worked in the financial services business for 15 years, until he went bankrupt in 2000 and they lost their home.
Friends Dean and Cordelia Barber invited them to stay at the Living Springs Ranch, a Christian guest ranch near Deer Park.
Six months after they went there, Dean had heart issues and needed to move into Spokane, so Maurice and Gale managed the ranch for five years.
For 15 years, Maurice has been involved in several organic house churches and in outreach.
"House churches, being organic, ebb and flow," he said. "So they are more attractive to many homeless people on the streets than institutional churches with buildings. We take church to people where they live."
In West Central Spokane, he fed people in the front yard of a rental house on W. Gardner, serving barbecues for 150 to 300 every Monday evening from early May through late September.
In 2005, he helped found Feed Spokane and was its executive director for five years, increasing the quality and quantity of food for homeless and food insecure people in the community. Steve Brashears is now the executive director.
Maurice also worked to build discipleship among homeless men during 10 years he served on the Truth Ministries board.
As Gale's parents' health declined, she and Maurice cared for them for five years. During that time, he started Rising River Media, a self-publishing business. In 2014, it incorporated as a nonprofit.
Through Rising River Media, he has written and published 10 books through Amazon, books on discipleship and organic house churches. Gale has published a children's book and is finishing a second one.
They earn a living now by support from people who contribute to Rising River Media.
Maurice, who once ran a regional religion newspaper in Denver, said digital production has changed media. He used to have galleys set, paste them on pages, and photograph them to print.
Now he prepares books on software that lets him publish in print or online—one copy or 1,000 copies. It's print-on-demand.
For the past four years, Maurice has served on the leadership team for the Homeless Coalition, which coordinates individuals and agencies that serve the Spokane homeless. That brings together his volunteer work with homeless on the streets and in shelters, and with service providers.
In recent months, Maurice has been spending time at the studio of Community-Minded TV (Comcast 14), working with D.W. Clark, who spent 40 years in video production in Seattle and is now the senior videographer and editor for the second documentary.
The first hour-long documentary on Homeless Connect 2019 premiered May 30 on the third floor of the downtown Spokane Public Library with more than 100 people attending.
It was also broadcast for two weeks in June on CMTV-Comcast Channel 14. It is now available online at MyRoadLeadsHome.org, where it has had more than 800 views.
"It shows the community coming together to address homelessness," Maurice said.
Dan Mortimer of Mortimer Productions in Spokane helped Maurice recruit five videographers to film the Connect. Maurice is executive producer of "The Hidden Homeless" with Dan's daughter, Angela Downey, serving as floor producer and director.
"We do not see the vast majority of homeless families on the street corners," Maurice said. "Some are in shelters. Some live in cars. Some stay with family and friends while they try to get back to where they were.
"There are more homeless families because the local housing crisis creates a one percent vacancy rate, three-year waiting lists for one-bedroom apartments, and obstacles to return to stability," he said.
Some homeless families have jobs, but rent has risen 50 percent in seven years and 45 percent in five years. Income has not kept up. People are evicted if they can't pay rent.
"The family members who are homeless today are tomorrow's street homeless if we do not do something," Maurice said. "Do we have the will to do what we need to do?"
Solutions include establishing tenants' rights and requiring apartment owners to set aside a percentage of apartments for low-income people who could not be required to pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, deposits and fees.
Bringing the community together with homeless people and providing resources, like the Homeless Connect events, are also part of the impetus for finding solutions.
"It's one of the ways we as Christians can work to promote the shalom of our community," Maurice said.
With expenses for the Convention Center more than double what they were at the Salvation Army, Maurice seeks businesses to help sponsor the event.
He invites members of faith communities to come as volunteers to interact with and guide attendees seeking help to the resources they need.
Under one roof, the 2020 Homeless Connect will include a "warrant fest" offered by municipal, district and superior courts; veterinarians doing pet care; barbers cutting hair; food services; housing resources; addiction recovery services; information on shelters; DSHS services; health services including foot care, vaccines and wellness checks; free legal services from the Spokane Bar Association; opportunities for employment with the Census Bureau and many more services.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2020