Panel focus on need for relationships, compassion for homeless
Joe Ader of Family Promise, Alan Eschenbacher of All Saints Lutheran Church, and Megan Chandler and Renee Norris, both of Catholic Charities, called for "Understanding Homelessness: Compassionate Communication towards Those in Need" in a workshop for the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.
Compassion includes engaging someone experiencing homelessness with greetings and eye contact before offering help, as well as the "systemic" compassion of shelters that receive homeless families and individuals having a coordinated entry plan.
When people go to Homeless Families Coordinated Assessment Program, case workers first establish a relationship, then gather information to understand their eligibility for programs and goals, said Megan. The information is entered in a database agencies access to decide the best place to refer the people, rather than having them enter shelters on a first-come-first-served basis.
Renee said because those in trauma are vulnerable and find it hard to navigate the system, she offers a copy of The Fig Tree's Resource Directory as a self-help tool. SNAP also has a pocket guide to shelters and food banks.
She said anyone—after making eye contact—can give the guides to people experiencing homelessness.
Fourteen years ago, All Saints Lutheran saw many homeless people across the street in Coeur d'Alene Park. So the church started a Tuesday evening dinner for about 70. Now 120 to 150 come—200 in the summer. About 80 percent of them are homeless. Other churches send volunteers to help set up, cook and clean up. The church's food bank gives out 3,000 pounds of food a week."
The church also has a mental health chaplaincy that has trained 35 companions to work with homeless people.
"The best way to break the cycle of homelessness, once someone is housed, is for them to have a companion," Alan said.
Since 2000, poverty shifted from urban to suburbs, but most programs focus on people downtown," Joe said.
"Along with that, we have not built enough housing to meet the population increase, so the vacancy rate is under 2 percent in Spokane and .6 percent in Spokane Valley," said Joe, noting that homelessness is about the rising cost of housing, not just drugs and mental health.
"Over five years, average rents rose 48 percent, 13 percent a year," he said. "High rents increase homelessness, because income increased only 15 percent. The living wage is $21/hour. With the minimum wage $13.50/hour, there is a gap even for those working 40 hours."
Renee said in this market many people spend 40 to 50 percent of their incomes on rent plus utilities.
Income inequality makes it hard to move out of poverty," she said.
Often people with a 20-day eviction notice can need a deposit plus first and last month's rent, which can mean they need $3,000 to $5,000 to move into another house or apartment.
"In Washington, there is no cap on deposits, which are often fully non-refundable," Megan said.
A family of three with one member working a full-time, minimum-wage job may not qualify for low-income housing.
"Many worked in retail, but 1,400 stores closed in 2018 and 1,900 in 2019," Joe said. "We are experiencing fundamental changes in the economy."
Alan said those who can't compete are on the sidelines, not included in unemployment statistics. Corporations add part-time jobs, so they do not pay for benefits like medical coverage.
Before judging homeless people, he suggests sitting on a park bench beside someone who is homeless to learn who they are and their experiences.
Joe said a common factor in homelessness is the loss of community, friends or family to lean on.
"We will not solve the issue with housing only. We need to build community support structures," he said, telling of a family housed in a church two months ago.
The father had a tumor behind his eye. Church members took him to the doctor and paid rent.
"Programs do not change people. Relationships do," said Joe. "There will never be enough pastors or social workers to relate to the people with no homes. The faith community can befriend people and advocate for housing, social services and opportunities.
For information, call 747-5487 or 325-5005 or visit familypromise.org, cceasternwa.org/homeless-resources or allsaintsgather.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020