For local nonprofit, ‘Camp Hope’ demonstrated need for change
SPOKANE, Wash. — For years, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund has made it their mission to combat poverty in the Inland Northwest.
“Our normal wheelhouse is working in poverty reduction and really working with the most fragile people in poverty. They’re potentially in housing but maybe not stable housing,” said Sharon Smith.
KXLY sat down with Smith and Don Barbieri at the Transitions Home Yard Cottages, a permanent supportive housing community in northwest Spokane that the nonprofit helped fund.
“This is actually an example of what we need a lot more of. Permanent supportive housing, people that definitely can be living on their own, should be living on their own, but also need services,” Smith said.
Poverty and homeless are closely connected issues, but Smith and Barbieri’s fund has opted to tackle the broader issue by addressing the former. But a
In November, a shortage of warming center beds led to several events in the City of Spokane. The City Council temporarily suspended the city’s sit and lie ordinance, due to the lack of space, and a homeless encampment/protest called Camp Hope was erected on the sidewalk outside of City Hall.
It was this camp that suggested to Barbieri and Smith that homelessness and the homeless needed to be addressed directly.
“They had nothing. and that’s when we really saw what homelessness is in Spokane,” Smith said.
The Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund paid for tents and other necessities that were given to the residents of the homeless encampment for the few weeks they spent outside city hall.
As the City of Spokane funded and opened several new warming centers, and the camp was cleaned up by law enforcement, the crowd disappeared. But Smith says the problem was far from fixed.
“The warming centers are not shelters. They’re, you know, big rooms with mats on the floor and no showers,” she said. “It’s highly frustrating that it’s not treated as a crisis and we saw it with Camp Hope.
The fund can’t totally change its course because it has commitments to it’s poverty reduction work it must honor. But it’s not letting homelessness go- and this is where their experience comes into play.
“I will give our city and our county our third district elected leaders great credit for their capital work they’ve done. $243 million of investment,” said Don Barbieri.
Their first suggestion? Make housing priority number one and start a capital campaign for humanity, asking elected leaders to use that fundraising ability to start more stable housing projects like the ones the fund typically backs.
“This is not a money problem, I know a lot of people want to make it a money problem. It’s a will and a priority problem,” Smith said.
But even if money is raised and the resources provided. Smith says this won’t work without a change of attitude from this community.
“When you live homelessly, you live differently,” she said.
She knows. She lived homelessly for a year during her twenties.
“People either don’t look them in the eye and don’t talk to them or walk by them or even just shout at them ‘Just get a job’ and all they’re thinking to themselves is ‘How can I get a job when I can’t even get a shower?’ You know? ‘How do I carry all my belongings into a job interview with me?’ And every day it starts to wear you down,” she said.
A priority and attitude shift like that are a tall order but Barbieri and Smith this community is up for it.
“Citizens love doing good. We don’t vote down parks, we don’t vote down schools, let’s not vote down humanity either,” Barbieri said.
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