January 25, 2024 By KREM TV News
SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s been one of the most popular stops for twelve years running.
“So you live in Spokane?” a Spokane Community College cosmetology student asks the person seated in her chair for a haircut. A casual conversation during a clip is just one way the Spokane Homeless Connect is offering connections.
“Housing, there’s healthcare, there’s food banks. If you know what you need, the chance’s are real good you’ll find something down here at the Homeless Connect,” said Maurice Smith with the Homeless Connect.
It’s eastern Washington’s largest homeless resource fair, offering a one-stop shop of services that can transform lives. This year’s event at the convention center downtown is the second in-person version post-pandemic; Smith said last year’s return saw around 1,200 people come through.
“We’re expecting a big turnout today,” he said.
Over the last decade-plus of the Connect, Smith says they’ve not only drawn in larger numbers but have seen changes leading to greater numbers of unhoused people or, as is the case recently, people facing homelessness.
“That’s another area where it’s growing, people living on the bubble,” he said.
This year, they’re seeing more people who have lost homes or are at risk because they can’t afford rent. Smith says they’re seeing new people who have never experienced homelessness because of inflation. For Shawn White, family issues led to his living on the streets in late October.
“I hope to be out of the situation I’m in now,” he tearfully said.
Robert Luke has been in and out of shelters and unhoused for more than three years, so his situation is less new. Following a double leg amputation after frostbite last winter, his perspective on taking care of his mental health and substance use is new.
“Putting my life together, I’m gonna take this opportunity,” he said. “I didn’t think I was gonna have a chance, I thought I was gonna die out there.”
Luke said he’s had trouble getting kicked out of shelters because he doesn’t often get along with people; he’s also dealing with years of criminal charges stemming from his drug use. His first Homeless Connect is a chance to thank service providers who have stuck by him and worked through those obstacles with him for years.
“Now I see them all in one place and it’s kind of a wrap-around team,” he said.
For both men, having more than 100 service providers and resources all in one place is one reason the Connect is so life-changing. White says it’s also a way he can share his newfound understanding of what it’s really like for people who are dealing with his same situation, one he never thought he’d find himself in.
“No, no,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned there’s a lot of people out there kind enough to give you a helping hand and I’m fortunate to be one of those people.”
For Luke and many others at Thursday’s one-day event, there’s hope a new mayoral administration could transform homeless outreach based on the success of the Connect, offering centralized services in a monthly event or even a permanent location.
“We could really benefit, this much, all the time,” Luke said. “It’s all out there, we just have to put it all together.”