Cheney Free Press -


The homeless problem has several solutions

Guest Commentary


February 15, 2018

I see my eye specialist five or six times a year. My normal route to his office takes me past the homeless gathering under the I-90 bridge across from Lewis and Clark High School. They don’t seem to be hurting anybody, and there is no law against hanging out under the bridge, but I can understand school administrators’ concern for the safety of the students.

Spokane’s homeless population is far less than I have seen in Portland and Seattle, but the time and resources spent to find a solution is significant. Efforts have ranged from draconian to enabling. At one extreme, the city paved the area with big rocks to make it unsuitable for a camp site. No one wants to sleep on rocks.

After the resultant public outcry, the city removed the rocks. At the opposite extreme, Blessings Under the Bridge is a volunteer group who provides free meals to the camp. Both extremes apparently view the homeless as a homogeneous group. I don’t think this is true.

As I drive by the camp, I see bag ladies, some young folks smoking and talking on cellphones, a few who appear to be stoned on drugs, some who seem to be relatively clean and well feed and others who are obviously down and out. This is not a homogeneous group. Logic tells me that “homeless” is an umbrella term for anyone not fitting society’s norm.

Instead of forcing solutions to all who live on the street, we may achieve better results if we treat these folks as individuals and tailor our assistance programs accordingly. Programs to eliminate all homelessness haven’t worked.

There are some who are victims of unfortunate circumstances. I have read stories of single mothers who have lost their jobs and have no place to go. Public assistance, to include job training and temporary child care, benefits our community more than leaving this family on the street. We should have programs for those who qualify.

We have people in Spokane’s homeless camps because they are mentally impaired. I am not suggesting that we randomly institutionalize all those with a low IQ, but funding public facilities to care for this special category is preferable to sending them out to fend for themselves. We should support organizations such as Truth Ministries who specialize in treatment and rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug addicts.

Lastly, we need to accept the fact that there are some individuals who choose to live on the street. Camping out with friends can be fun. It can especially be fun if your needs of food and shelter are provided. Why go to work if you are warm and well fed?

If these individuals were required to work for their room and board it would be much less enjoyable. Those who choose to be homeless have a right to do so, but they should not be provided taxpayer assistance to pursue their lifestyle.

The new automated homeless census is a good start, but once the data is gathered there needs to be comprehensive follow-up. Umbrella programs haven’t worked. We need to address the underlying causes.

Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and a long-time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a freelance columnist for over 19 years.


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