SPOKANE, Wash. - The City of Spokane spent $150,000 to drop basalt boulders underneath the I-90 overpasses, in an effort to discourage Spokane's homeless community from camping or sleeping there.
Using design or landscaping to shift homelessness or crime from a specific area not a new tactic for the city, but it's not often as noticeable as these large piles of rock.
“This is part of a broad strategy to make sure we're having a compassionate response to the tragedy of homelessness in Spokane,” said Jonathan Mallahan, the city's director of Community and Neighborhood Services.
Not everyone picks up on the compassion. But, it's the city attempt to drive the homeless population toward shelters and services meant to break the cycle.
“This action didn't happen without a lot of fore-work to make sure that people who are experiencing homelessness had access and knowledge of the services they could take advantage of,” Mallahan said.
But, most of Spokane's homeless are already aware of the services and shelters made available to them. They say they feel safer and more comfortable sleeping outside, than inside.
When asked if he slept at the House of Charity, Gary Thomas Schmidt said “Absolutely not. It's a disease infested - bless it's heart- but it's like being in a hospital, you don't want to be there, that's where sickness is.”
KXLY reached out to the House of Charity for a comment, but they have not yet responded.
Schmidt is nearly 60. He said he has slept in the areas now covered by rocks many times.
Emily Edwards is new to Spokane. She hitchhiked here from California, where she lived on the streets for just about three years. Edwards what the city considers chronically homeless and the number of people like her is growing.
The city's homeless count this year described 325 people as chronically homeless - a 73% increase from 2016.
“Look at the city now, there are people sleeping in places they’ve never slept before. And it's not just a few like it used to be it's everywhere and all the time,” said Schmidt.
The city says the goal of the rocks is not to chase the homeless away but to get them inside. Edwards says, she understands the reasoning, but doesn't agree with it.
“I understand you're trying to get them in safer places but that was the only safe place they knew. Being like 'no- you're not allowed there no more, you know, sorry not my problem-' I don't understand it. It hurts,'” she said.
Mallahan said that the city has funded $1.8 million for emergency services this year, on top of the $13 million it spends annually for homelessness and low income programs.
On Friday afternoon, the city sent out an email announcing the launch of the Give Real Change program, which will use street signage and parking meters to increase awareness about opportunities to both give to and utilize programs for the homeless population of Spokane. The program will launch on Tuesday, September 5.
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