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Mayoral candidates address Spokane's homeless crisis

SPOKANE, Wash. - It's been called the defining issue in this year's race for the mayor's office and the five remaining candidates will be the first to tell you, Spokane's homeless crisis is a complex issue.

Just as there's no consensus on how 1,309 people have ended up without a place to call home, Jonathan Bingle, Kelly Cruz, Shawn Poole, Ben Stuckart and Nadine Woodward each have different stances on how to address the problem.

Some told KXLY Spokane's kindness has been its own downfall.

"I think it was born out of a community that wanted to help but I think we may have gone overboard and that helping has turned into enabling," said Poole. 

"I believe the more resources that you provide, the more people will come to our city," said Woodward. "We are becoming a regional hub for the homeless."

"Being overgenerous can at some point, not only enable folks in whatever they're struggling with, but incentivize them," Cruz told KXLY.

Other candidates believe it comes down to lack of opportunity.

"Nobody can afford to move right now because there's no apartments available and no houses available," said Stuckart. "We have 800 people in Spokane that have housing vouchers which is just as good as cash but there is no affordable housing available for them."

Bingle told KXLY a September decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has made things difficult on Spokane. A court ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that if a city does not provide shelter for the homeless, officials cannot criminalize camping or sleeping in open public spaces or on sidewalks.

"I think that really began to affect the entire West Coast and not just Spokane," said Bingle.

The candidates' thoughts on where Spokane goes next are just as different. 

"Every individual is unique and so there's not a one-size-fits-all approach that fits but what I do know is that people need hope," said Bingle. "I think that if we continue to build the economy of Spokane, what you can do is you can continue to attract better and newer jobs, things that give people an idea of 'I can make it in this town."

"You know, we talk about criminalizing the homeless. We've gotten to a point now where we're criminalizing everybody else but the homeless by not enforcing these laws that are on the books," said Poole, referring to the city's sit-lie ordinance. "You make it uncomfortable. You get them off the streets. You enforce those ordinances that are designed to protect everybody and not just a group of people."

"We need to make it harder to become chronically homeless and easier to find treatment for your addiction," said Woodward, adding that she supports expanding the program that partners Spokane Police officers with counselors from Frontier Behavioral Health. 

"We should get together as a community because homelessness is not a UGM problem, it's not a House of Charity problem, it's not a Salvation Army problem. It's a community problem," said Cruz. "Get together all the people that provide those social services in our community and see how we can tie those together because there's a lot of overlap and gapping and when you have that, you naturally have a lot of folks fall through the cracks."

"We've gotta open a second shelter," said Stuckart. "We've gotta reimagine our shelter system so that we're not just putting people on mats on floors. We're offering them the services and the avenue in order to remove themselves from that situation."

KXLY will continue to cover the issues at hand in this year's race for the mayor's office. Stay tuned for another look at the candidates' platforms beyond the issue of homelessness.


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