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Coalition seeks spaces for homeless during winter

Barry Barfield coordinated Spokane Homeless Coalition

By Lillian Piel

Over the summer, those who work with people who experience homelessness began planning for winter, said Barry Barfield, administrator of the Spokane Homeless Coalition.

Soon the focus will be to find spaces where they can stay the night to avoid frostbite and death in the cold of winter, he said.

Through the Spokane Homeless Coalition, which informs, connects and networks around homelessness, Barry was working in the summer to find spaces where those needing shelter can stay the night during the winter.

He wants to partner with faith communities to use spaces they have to provide a safe place for homeless people to stay at night.

"I would love it if that issue could be pressed right now so we could put all the pieces in place to keep homeless people from dying next winter," said Barry, inviting faith groups and other organizations to contact him to explore options and plan ahead.

For most of his life, Barry has been interested in social justice causes, especially the issue of homelessness.

In addition to being an administrator at Spokane Homeless Coalition, he works part-time at Gonzaga Preparatory School, where he helps students find volunteer service placements in the community.

Barry moved to Spokane about 30 years ago, and about five years ago he began going to Spokane Homeless Coalition meetings to find out what they were doing and how he could help.

A year and a half ago, the administrator position opened up on the coalition's leadership team, and Barry volunteered. As administrator, he helps with email lists, responding to emails and maintaining the website. He also helps run the group's monthly Zoom meeting.

The leadership team decides what they think coalition members would want to learn about and discuss, then finds topics and speakers they believe members would benefit from.

Monthly public meetings are from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. on first Thursdays at the Gathering House, 733 W. Garland.

Meeting attendance is 60 to 100 people each time, he said.

Barry's interest in social justice causes began in his childhood.

After his father died when Barry was one year old, he was raised by his mother, who had a heart for those living on the margins of society.

"She passed that on to me. As long as I can remember, I've just had both an interest in and heart for those concerns," Barry said.

His work with people experiencing homelessness began in 1976, when he was teaching at a Catholic high school in Los Angeles where a nun ran a community outreach center for undocumented immigrants and homeless people. He started volunteering at the shelter, loved it and ended up on the center's board.

When he first moved to Spokane, Barry taught social justice themed classes at Gonzaga Preparatory School. He continued his interest in homelessness, staying up to date on what was happening in the community.

Barry had a bus driver's license and took students to visit shelters for people experiencing homelessness or places that help developmentally disabled children.

"I would try and get them into the community to see social justice stuff actually happening," he said.

About 15 years ago, he began taking part in the Spokane Urban Plunge, which was previously run by Jerry Schwab, an employee at Catholic Charities' House of Charity homeless shelter in downtown Spokane. Barry volunteered there. After Jerry left the House of Charity, Barry took over running the Urban Plunge about 10 years ago.

On an Urban Plunge, those who wish to learn about homelessness in Spokane spend time walking around downtown Spokane, visiting various facilities, meeting people and hearing their stories.

"Human contact had the most impact," he said.

Although the Urban Plunge stopped when the pandemic hit, Barry said he will revive it this fall.

Raised Catholic, Barry said his faith and values influence who he is and why he does the work he does.

He believes the gospel says Jesus spent a lot of time with those on the margins, and that this is what Jesus would want him to do. His mother raised him to have a heart for others tied in with his Catholic faith, he said.

Barry said that the Spokane Homeless Coalition recently formed an action group. After its virtual meeting in March, the group talked about a recent police sweep of a homeless camp.

They decided to do something about it. Barry encouraged them to keep working and plan something together.

The result was the action group, which is currently advocating for places for unhooused individuals to stay and store their belongings and find ways to improve their living conditions.

The Spokane Homeless Coalition has also been involved with Homeless Connect, a day when agencies and groups that serve people experiencing homelessness gather in one location downtown to provide services, such as haircuts, clothing, food, housing resources and unemployment.

Depending COVID-19, the event will resume on Jan. 27, 2022, at the Convention Center.

The coalition provides many ways for people in faith groups and other organizations to learn more about the lives of homeless people and to be inspired to action. Barry invites faith groups or other organizations to contact him or the Spokane Homeless Coalition to explore options.


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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2021