August 10, 2020
Posted on Monday August 10, 2020
It’s summertime in Colville and it’s lovely. Being outdoors more in the warmer weather is such a treat even if we are wearing masks and distancing a bit. As we get out more and see more of our community, it happens that we observe the homeless among us at the City Park, downtown, the Hope Street Rest Stop and other locations. Questions have come to me from several individuals about why they are allowed in our public spaces, with seemingly unfettered access to places where we are not used to seeing them. It may be disturbing to some, but this is my attempt to address the matter with all who live here because I care about your thoughts and feelings and want us all to operate in the realm or truth and fact instead of fear and hearsay.
Human beings are homeless for many different reasons. Lack of jobs, medical crises, family splits, substance abuse and so on. The other reality is that some (not many) don’t want jobs or help. They like the nomadic lifestyle and I get that. Some others (fewer yet) remain homeless due to feeding a substance abuse issue of some sort and then resort to criminal behavior to fund their choices. However, in my time of working with and being around the homeless people here locally, most are reasonable, respectful and intelligent and are folks that have hit on hard times and are struggling to find their way back out. That’s the spectrum as I see it and I’d like to encourage all of us to remember that before they were homeless, they were still people; people that deserve to have their basic human needs met with a roof, a bed, some food and the opportunity to work their way back into the society that largely condemns them for their failures in this life. I don’t intend that this turn into a philosophical debate about all the reasons that “those homeless folks” are distasteful to many, I do though desire to point out the truth about their plight, uncomfortable to some as it may be.
If we can all accept that some people just don’t have stationary homes to live in, then we can move on to what the remedy could look like here in Colville, which is where I’d really like to see this conversation go. I also know that the homeless have always been among us, but that they are more apparent now due to increased numbers. I worry too, that when the deferred rents and mortgage payments come due from the suspension of penalties during this Corona virus by the Governor, we are likely to see their numbers increase even more, especially in those locations where population numbers are much higher than here.
So as a community, what can we do? Some express interest in rounding them up and jailing them, but homelessness isn’t a crime. Some would like to see us provide funding for their every whim and need and I probably disagree with that approach as well, even if it were possible. (Which it isn’t) The reality under the law is that they:
a. have a right to be in public places like all of us do, and
b. they cannot be evicted from those public places legally unless the City, Town or municipality has shelter space to offer them.
In the outcome of the court case Martin v Boise it was held that the homeless or indigent could not be removed from sleeping in or occupying a space on public property. These findings were upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and when it was appealed to the Supreme Court by the City of Boise, they declined to hear it stating that the 9th Circuit Court had ruled correctly and there was no need to re-try the case. See the quote below.
“We’re thrilled that the Court has let the 9th Circuit decision stand so that homeless people are not punished for sleeping on the streets when they have no other option,” said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at the Law Center. “But ultimately, our goal is to end homelessness through housing—which is effective and saves taxpayer dollars—so that no one has to sleep on the streets in the first place. We hope that the 9th Circuit decision will help communities find the political will to put that housing in place. Housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness.” (Quote from the National Homelessness Law Center article December 2019, emphasis supplied)
I share that quote only because it honestly and openly states the reality of those that have no home; that they are in almost every City and Town and I believe that it’s on the City of Colville to work with those here locally that are truly trying to improve the plight of these folks. Hope Street, Habitat for Humanity, the local food banks, The Hub, The American Legion, Rural Resources and many local churches have all decided that these people need assistance; food, a warm bed, a shower, a load of laundry, access to services and help completing application forms, etc. Slowly, even the creation of low-income housing is under way here locally but the need far outpaces the current availability. It’s my opinion that we can do better, but it will require some more effective partnering, a clear focus and a strong (collective) desire to overcome this challenge that probably isn’t going away.
Your City Council has acted to accept a refund on local sales tax from the State, earmarked only for homelessness if the Governor decides to fund it. Steven County has a sizeable homeless fund and there are many local individuals that work tirelessly to address this need. It truly is a work in progress but one that is working for some and I’m proud of the many local groups and individuals involved in helping those that in many cases, cannot help themselves.
It’s often been said that there are many of us that are only a paycheck or two from becoming homeless ourselves. In these times of struggle, illness and political strife, I truly believe that if help comes at all, it will come from those here that care and have in their hearts a true compassion for their fellow man. I promise to continue to do all that I can to work towards an outcome on the matter that truly serves us all.
Mayor Ralph K. Lane Jr.