Getting to the root of the homelessness problem

In September, 4 News Now introduced you to a woman living in Spokane. Down her street was a growing homeless camp. She said she called everyone she could think of to come clear it out. But because the camp was within Spokane Valley city limits and Spokane Valley has no shelters, the city can’t move them.

Many 4 News Now viewers responded, asking, where does homelessness begin and what’s the best way to help.

It’s kind of like the old saying, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Do we have homeless people because there are shelters? If there were no shelters, would there be fewer homeless?

“We created this problem by the policies. It was policy driven – no chicken and egg. This was a policy decision that went badly,” said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Spokane County.

Sheriff Knezovich said Spokane wasn’t like this four years ago, it never had the homeless population you see in downtown every day.

So what happened? Did we add more shelters and create more homeless people?

“The city leaders created a homeless problem in Spokane,” Sheriff Knezovich said.

Sheriff Knezovich said yes. He said the city went with a hand out model, rather than a hand up.

“This is an imported problem and it doesn’t change until we change the model,” Sheriff Knezovich said.

While the sheriff blamed the city for the growing homeless numbers, the Spokane Homeless Coalition said they disagree. They said homelessness comes from a lack of housing.

“If we don’t solve the housing crisis, where are we going to put homeless people,” said Maurice Smith, Spokane Housing Coalition.

The organization said we need more affordable housing to stop our homeless crisis in its tracks.

“There are always going to be people who milk the system. That’s life. That’s been true since people on planet earth,” Smith said.

“More and more people came to Spokane because they knew they were getting free stuff with no requirements,” Sheriff Knezovich said.

The sheriff said Spokane Valley uses its money in a different way.

“Spokane Valley didn’t have a problem until this spilled over into Spokane Valley from the city,” Sheriff Knezovich said.

The sheriff said there is no question, he is all for helping people in need, but not holding people accountable is not helping them.

“We will help you with temporary housing, we will help you while you get off your drugs, get off your alcohol. We’ll help you with mental health issues,” Sheriff Knezovich said.

But you shouldn’t get anything for free, according to the sheriff.

“You cannot continue to allow people to not change but give them more stuff. Again, it’s not compassion. That is not compassion. And allowing someone to continue to shoot poison into their veins isn’t compassion either, it’s a death sentence,” Sheriff Knezovich said.

The sheriff said, part of the problem, are what he calls, activist judges, who don’t enforce laws that are in place to keep streets and parks clean. Making it harder for you and I to enjoy public spaces.