‘Study a problem to death’: Local businesses bring in San Diego leaders to address homelessness

SPOKANE, Wash. — Local businesses are bringing in ideas from across the nation to help homelessness.

Hello for Good hosted current and former leaders on Tuesday at their inaugural Symposium from a state that has it worse off than Washington. California has the largest homeless population in the country. Some are worried the Inland Northwest could be on the same path.

The unsheltered homeless population in Spokane is up 52% since 2020, according to the newly released Point In Time count.

Private business leaders who make up Hello For Good want to see change happen, so they’re getting involved in the solution. People who’ve worked on homelessness in San Diego shared what they did to help the issue and ideas Spokane could embrace.

“So many cities don’t do anything. They study a problem to death,” said Kevin Faulconer. He’s the former mayor of San Diego and served in the role from 2014 to 2020.

From 2017 to 2019, homelessness in San Diego went down while across the rest of the state, it got worse.

“It’s nonpartisan,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democratic or Independent – we know that we need to take action.”

He did things differently than other leaders in California. He says when he was in office, he was committed to fast meaningful action. He says Spokane can get ahead of this trend by getting more shelter beds in the system immediately and enforcing accountability.

“The last three years that I was mayor, I did not allow tent encampments on the sidewalks because we provided the help and the support of the shelters with the wraparound services in terms of mental health, substance abuse, job training and housing navigation,” Faulconer added.

He says as soon as he created enough shelter beds, he didn’t allow people to live on the streets. Mayor Nadine Woodward is working to add more beds in the system. Current reports show the growing homeless camp in East Central is sleeping around 400 people outside, on the streets.

Creating large-scale shelters for hundreds of people and converting unused government buildings is the driving force behind the Lucy Duck Foundation. That’s another San Diego based company tackling homelessness lead by a homegrown boy.

“This is an issue frankly I don’t even recall thinking about or seeing as a kid,” said Drew Moser. He grew up in Spokane before moving to San Diego and getting involved in homelessness.

Now, he wants to see his hometown get ahead of the issue before it’s too late.

“From 2017 to 2019, the unsheltered homelessness population declined 29% when it was doing a hockey stick throughout the rest of the state,” Moser said.

He says the city needs to address permanent housing solutions, as well, but that takes too long to see meaningful change. They’ve had success with large tent shelters that can go up quickly and get people off the streets. While no one approach will fix homelessness, these leaders say waiting for the perfect solution won’t help anyone.

While these are solutions the city could consider, according to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness in California, the number of new homeless people in San Diego County increased 79% in 2020. This happened after Mayor Faulconer left office and after COVID crippled the world.

READ: City Council restarts search for homeless shelter operator due to ‘conflict of interest’