Mayor Woodward on the Homeless

She shows her colors

Mayor Woodward needs to listen to voices beyond the business community that got her elected. We all share a goal of making downtown Spokane a happy, vibrant place to visit. Apparently, we differ about how that should be achieved. 

In an article dated April 27 in the Spokesman entitled “Mayor still supports 250-bed shelter” Mayor Nadine Woodward revealed what she thinks of the growing number of Spokanites who find themselves unable to secure a place to live:

I think we need to get to the point where we’re working to make homelessness less comfortable and get people connected to services.

Mayor Woodward offers us some clarity on her concept of human nature: People who find themselves without shelter in Spokane, a place with an extremely tight housing market characterized by skyrocketing rents and home prices just need to be made a little more uncomfortable in order to motivate them to “get connected with services”. The implication is clear: The fact of a person being homeless means they are lazy, deficient, lacking in the qualities that should motivate them to somehow acquire an address, a cell phone, proper clothing, transportation, medical care, and a job, all the things necessary to seek still possibly unaffordable and unavailable housing, never minding any of the details of how they wound up homeless. In that laziness and deficiency, even less comfort, according the Ms. Woodward is a desirable motivator.

Mayor Woodward’s goal is single-minded: provide enough nominally available “low barrier” beds in one simple facility so that, in accordance with Martin v. Boise, it becomes legally defensible to enforce the sit/lie ordinance and thereby clear downtown. Were it not for Martin v. Boise one has the feeling that Mayor Woodward would have been thoroughly content with simply making the unsheltered “less comfortable” by simply directing the police to chase them from camp after camp. 

Evidently, whatever visits to homeless shelters Ms. Woodward made before her 2019 election, visits featured in the media to demonstrate her compassion, those visits must have left her with the impression these shelters were a little too comfortable to provide proper motivation. Never having significant contact with the homeless who had no access to a bed in a shelter; never having taken part in a point-in-time (PIT) count; and refusing to hear the voices of those who actually worked with the homeless population for years, Ms. Woodward assumes that anyone who has fallen on hard times needs the same one-size-fits-all approach—and a bit less comfort—in order to motivate them to find a way out of their predicament.

George Critchlow, like any good citizen should, quickly took up Mayor Woodward’s solution in a proposed letter to the editor:

Mayor Woodward thinks we should make the homeless “less comfortable” apparently on the assumption that their discomfort will motivate them to improve their circumstances. I ran across a man sleeping on a downtown sidewalk this morning. He had no blankets or sleeping bag. His only “shelter” was a couple of pieces of cardboard. My immediate thought was how we might motivate him by making him less comfortable. The answer, of course, was to take away his cardboard so that he might have an incentive to pursue a better life. I believe we citizens should personally participate in advancing the Mayor’s compassionate agenda, but I regret to say I did nothing. Now I am feeling a bit guilty. I will endeavor to be a better person in the future. And I hope other concerned citizens will actively work to help the homeless by making them more uncomfortable. There are a range of options – we can take away their blankets, their tents, maybe even their food and meds. The task will be easier come winter. Mother nature will do the trick so long as we remain committed to improving the lives of the homeless by making sure there is no emergency shelter.

Mayor Woodward would like nothing more than to make the homeless issue disappear. She squeaked into office backed by real estate, developer, and business money that endeavored to link crime and homelessness—and offered simplistic “solutions”. Prominent among these solutions were those proposed by Larry Stone in his video entitled “Curing Spokane”: a newer, bigger jail; more police on the streets; and, bizarrely, more downtown parking and a downtown bus station put underground. Is it any wonder that it is Mr. Stone’s building out on Trent Avenue that Mayor Woodward now proposes to lease as a primary warehouse for the homeless, a place where they presumably can be made less comfortable in order to better motivate them to connect to services that have, up to the present time, proven to be inadequate?

The Mayor’s revealed strategy is to provide the number of one-size-fits-all beds necessary to declare the problem of Martin v. Boise solved—so she can move on. Ms. Woodward’s “We need to get to the point where we’re working to make homelessness less comfortable” is right up there with “Let them eat cake” (Marie Antoinette) and “the 47%” who “believe they are victims” and “are dependent on government”. One can only hope Woodward’s quote will be as memorable as presidential candidate Romney’s—and yield the same electoral result come November, 2023.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Maurice Smith, local video documentarian, a man with vastly more experience with those who find themselves homeless in Spokane than Mayor Woodward will ever have, writes:

  1. “The 2020 PIT [Point in Time] count showed 541 “Unsheltered” individuals experiencing homelessness outside the shelter system. Although the 2022 PIT results have not been officially released, preliminary numbers that are circulating suggest that the 2022 “Unsheltered” count is 800(+), for a NET INCREASE of 259 (or 48%). In other words, the Mayor’s proposed shelter will only accommodate the increased numbers from 2020 to 2022, without creating a net increase in shelter bed availability.
  2. “I’m encouraged by the public announcement by Catholic Charities of their plan for a NEW shelter to replace HOC [House of Charity on Pacific Ave downtown]. Many of us in the service community have been aware of this plan for a couple of months. I find it interesting that Catholic Charities was able to secure 3 possible locations for their new shelter while the City couldn’t find one location until Larry Stone rode to their rescue. The 300 bed capacity of the new shelter would represent a net increase of 165 new beds after accounting for a 135 bed swap between the new shelter and the existing HOC. By my math (800 minus 250 minus 165 equals 385) that would leave us 385 beds short of accommodating the “Unsheltered” population (with nearly all adult shelter beds currently running full). That’s roughly the population of Camp Hope (last count was 401).
  3. “The administration (and the downtown business community) should be enthusiastically supporting Camp Hope [the homeless encampment on Department of Transportation land near 2nd and Thor] as its existence means that 400 homeless individuals are there and are NOT under bridges and in alleys and doorways downtown. Close Camp Hope (as the Administration has been trying to do with DOT since its inception) and those people are going to head downtown.
  4. “Now that the Mayor is getting the shelter she has invested most of her political capital in [the proposed 250 bed shelter on Trent [in an industrial area near Trent and Mission], her true attitude and agenda is being more brazenly revealed, “I think we need to be able to offer the kinds of resources that people need to move them out of homelessness rather than make them comfortable in their homelessness.” In case you’ve missed the point, the purpose of law enforcement sweeps of the homeless from downtown and from camps has been (and continues to be) to make them so uncomfortable that they will give up and go to a shelter (apparently, with or without available beds). In the Mayor’s 17-page Homeless Plan DRAFT (which I read and critiqued), this is called “Compassionate Accountability.”  How it is somehow compassionate to make people experiencing homelessness miserable is a twisting of the English language that is beyond reasonable comprehension. 

Yours for the Shalom of Our Community,

Maurice Smith

Executive Producer”