In Their Shoes: Seeing the homeless community through a firefighter’s eyes

In Their Shoes: Seeing the homeless community through a firefighter’s eyes

It’s probably not a question you have to ask yourself. Where are you staying tonight? But for many of the homeless in our community, finding a place is a battle everyday.

But it’s not a battle they fight alone. The city’s firefighters do so much more than put out flames.

All throughout our special report, “In Their Shoes,” KXLY4 has been trying to give you a picture of a problem and a possible solution.

Each and everyday we see the homeless community through our eyes, as someone who simply lives here. We see them on street corners panhandling, we find them under bridges and sleeping on the hard concrete. Now we’re giving you the opportunity to see these same people with a different perspective, through the eyes of a first responder who’s seen it all.

“Hey there, how are you,” Chief Brian Schaeffer said, Spokane Fire.

It all starts with a simple greeting and a question. That’s what we noticed when we spent one afternoon with Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer to talk about the city’s homeless community. Little did we know, where we’d find the homeless was as open-ended as that question.

We started the trip by visiting one of Spokane’s only shelters open during the day, in Browne’s Addition.

“You can see just by the amount of square footage in here, just honestly how tight it is,” Chief Schaeffer said.

People are on the ground sleeping body to body.

“We’re essentially using spaces that were never designed to serve as temporary housing,” Chief Schaeffer said.

He said the city has to modify housing just to meet the need of Spokane.

“A lot of us are blessed to have a home, a place to put stuff, a garage. A lot of the people that we’re dealing with here are trying to bring all that with them,” Chief Schaeffer said.

We get in the car again, this time driving by Fish Lake trail, where we find a woman living in her car. Again, Chief Schaeffer asks a question.

“Are you just by yourself,” he said.

“No, I’ve got my son and two dogs,” the homeless woman said.

We learn this woman isn’t in a shelter for a reason that sounds familiar.

“Is there anything we can do for you, have you checked with any of the 24-hour shelters,” Chief Schaeffer said.

“They’re all full,” the homeless woman said.

“Yeah, that’s kind of what we’re hearing,” Chief Schaeffer said.

It was a common statement throughout the afternoon. There was no open shelter space available for people during the day.

“When we get run off from here, we move around,” the homeless woman said.

Again, we’re in the car.

“The trail is full of urban campers,” Chief Schaeffer said.

And we find more homeless camps.

“We are standing in the City of Spokane. But in an unincorporated area in Spokane, just off of Fish Lake trail,” Chief Schaeffer said. “They live like you and I do. Their path is clearly shoveled. They have a restroom area. They have their own capability for staying warm and for cooking,” Chief Schaeffer said.

Make no mistake, the living environment, is not safe, for anyone.

“There is no address on this encampment. Our firefighters have to go through the trails, dodge the areas of concealment, to try to locate and find these people,” Chief Schaeffer said.

We hop in the Spokane Fire car and continue driving through the city one more time. Here, we find a homeless man sleeping under a bridge.

“Where are you, where are you staying tonight? This is it,” Chief Schaeffer said.

Here, we learn, that same car that we’ve been jumping in this whole trip is a homeless resource on its own.

Chief Schaeffer goes up to the homeless man and asks if he needs anything. Then he offers him a bus pass. He told KXLY4 any Spokane Fire Department vehicle has $500 cash inside and bus passes.

“If they run across something like this where somebody just might need gas or they may need a sandwich, or just something to get them through – in an urgent or emergent situation – just to go ahead and use it,” Chief Schaeffer said.

But Chief Schaeffer said more needs to be done than just that, because while each one of these situations start with a simple greeting.

They all end with a goodbye, walking away wondering what will happen next.

“Take care, stay warm,” Chief Schaeffer said.

According to Spokane Fire, the day-to-day help they give homeless people is really just a band-aid. The bigger issue of solving homelessness has to come from every corner of the community.

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