It’s not more services that they need—we have access to those services. It’s the relationships that aren’t being built.
The validity of the first half of that statement may vary from region to region. But the latter half is nearly a universal truth when it comes to the need to foster good faith with homeless communities. While some cities and states are imposing increasingly rigid policies on homeless people, Spokane is focusing on building bridges.
The need to build healthy relationships with some of the most vulnerable members of society isn’t lost on Julia Garcia, a torchbearer of homelessness prevention in Spokane, Washington’s second largest city. It’s what moved her to start Jewels Helping Hands, a nonprofit shelter that helps take care of the many homeless, an acute need during the state’s long winter months.
Ms. Garcia isn’t the only person that’s taking a proactive approach in helping Spokane’s poorest. Enter Homeless Connect, a convention for the homeless.
2020 Spokane Homeless Connect Provided Resources to 83% of the City’s Neediest
If this is the first time you are hearing about Homeless Connect, the event is worth learning about. Last month marked its ninth annual event. Kari Chapman, chair of HC, said that the 2020 convention brought more homeless than they anticipated.
“We hoped for as many as 700 attendees, but to be prepared for a large turnout, we planned food for 800. Our final door count was 1,128. We had more than 300 people waiting in the lobby when the Connect officially opened. There was just a steady stream of people that flowed through all day long.”
Those are encouraging numbers. All this buy-in from the homeless community filled many needs. Here are a few statistics collected from Spokane’s 2020 Homeless Connect:
- 107 service providers
- 1000+ hot meals served
- 800+ served by the Food Bank
- 500 bus passes distributed
- 86 free haircuts
- 75 veterinary appointments
- 46 eye exams
- 42 warrants ‘squashed’
- 13 HIV tests
- 13 medical appointments
- 7 dental appointments
Chapman said that they have “absolutely every service you can think of.” But Homeless Connect is about more than just having needs met. It acts as a component piece in a much larger plan to create warm, trusting relations between people in need and facilities that can help.
Trust has been described as a human need, something we require to be happy. It’s also something that has been broken again and again by individuals and institutions promising much and under-delivering. Or those offering help on their own terms with little regard for how those with unstable housing want to receive it.
If homeless people can trust service providers, they may take advantage of the help being offered.
As an example, consider what Spokane Municipal Court Judge Matthew Antush was doing at the “warrant squashing” table. If a convention attendee had been ticketed recently for a misdemeanor such as “sitting and lying,” they could approach the table and get their warrant dismissed in exchange for a set number of community service hours and an agreement to show up to court regularly for updates.
To be clear, the criminalization of homelessness and its results is unconstitutional and untenable. Homelessness prevention advocates are hopeful that nation-wide reforms will reverse the trend of levying increasingly heavy fines or jail time against victims of unstable housing. But during the interim, the “warrant table” serves a need in a broken system. It lessens an admittedly unjust penalty. A positive interaction with a sympathetic judge can also help improve relations that have been damaged through historic breaches of trust.
Broken systems are something that Julia of Jewels Helping Hands is eager to help repair.
Her shelter has fewer barriers than others that may require sobriety to enter. One client expressed her appreciation for the care and concern of the staff at Jewels Helping Hands.
“They’re checking on me all the time. I’m like, ‘Hey, you know, I want to go drink.’ And they’re like, ‘No, you don’t. We’re going to keep an eye on you. You’re going to stay here today.’”
This client—and others like her—feel cared for. Someone else is concerned about them and their welfare. That kind of attention and support plays a vital role in helping people recover.
This concern was on full display at 2020 Homeless Connect, an event that will no doubt be even bigger and more impactful in 2021. Kari Chapman again: “I believe Connect represents our community at its best, demonstrating fearless compassion and coming together to address homelessness by offering practical help to our most vulnerable citizens.”