The Lessons of Camp Hope

A Place to Exist

“A Place To Exist” became available on Amazon books on September 19th. (It is not yet listed online at Auntie’s, unfortunately.) I highly recommend that my readers obtain a copy, read it, share it, discuss it, and take it to heart. 

All of us in Spokane who read or watched the news—or drove past or visited Camp Hope while it existed on the block near near Thor and I-90—or listened to the condemnations and legal threats issuing from City of Spokane Mayor Woodward, Chief of Police Meidl or Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich—is aware of the controversy surrounding Camp Hope. For months between December of 2021 to its successful closure in June of 2023 Camp Hope was the largest homeless encampment in the State of Washington—and a lightning rod for controversy over increasingly visible homelessness in Spokane and more broadly in the nation. 

The author of “A Place to Exist”, Maurice Smith, served tirelessly as one of those who helped manage and bring order to Camp Hope. As a gifted writer and video documentarian of homelessness in our Spokane community, Smith is uniquely positioned to tell the story of the Camp and articulate the lessons we should all take away from it. His book provides a view of those experiencing homelessness that is too little expressed in the media. 

As is often the case with books I read, one iconic image from “A Place to Exist” sticks in my mind. By now we have all seen ragged people reduced by circumstances to pushing all their remaining belongings along city streets in a shopping cart, buffeted by exhortations to “move along”. Little had it dawned on me until I read the passage below that the mere possession of a shopping cart, an item so basic to transporting one’s few possessions, could provide the grounds for law enforcement to enmesh such an unfortunate in the endless machinations and entanglements of our legal system. I will never see a person pushing a shopping cart along the street in the same way again.

Painful experience teaches us that, all too often, the interaction between law enforcement and those experiencing homelessness becomes an ongoing game of homeless wack-a-mole, forcing the homeless to move with no effective options while generating new and additional barriers that only complicate their journey out of homelessness. Handing out citations for trespassing, or 3rd degree possession of stolen property (i.e., a shopping cart), or obstructing a sidewalk may send you to Community Court, but the service providers at Community Court don’t have any more services, resources, or housing options available than anyone else does. Using law enforcement as a tool of homeless policy simply isn’t a meaningful solution to homelessness.

In the broad sense, increasing homelessness is a visible manifestation of societal rot we, mostly unwittingly, have brought on ourselves as detailed in Matthew Anderson’s article in RANGE Media that I highlighted in a post last Monday. We must not lose sight of that even as we strive to mitigate the consequences of that rot now expressed in ever increasing numbers of us plunged into poverty and homelessness. “A Place to Exist” goes a long way toward dispelling the stereotypes of the homeless implanted by the endless rhetoric of a political party that fostered the rot and now seeks to demonize the resulting homeless as sub-human, worthy only of being chased away and out of sight.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Camp Hope was preceded by the Cannon Street Shelter. In many ways one leads directly to the other. The story of the Cannon Street Shelter is masterfully told in a fifty minute documentary video also by Maurice Smith entitled, simply, “The Story of the Cannon Street Warming Center”. Click on the underlined title to watch it on YouTube. It is worth your time. 

P.P.S. One last point: The origins of Camp Hope lie in the dismantling of social policies that accelerated with the Republican Party and the Reagan presidency (1980-1988) as detailed in Matthew Anderson’s piece in RANGE Media. The price we now pay in money and in societal strife to try to stem the tide of homelessness that has resulted from that dismantlement is a higher price in time and treasure than we would have paid had we not cast them adrift in the first place.

Woodward, Shea, and the City Council Resolution

The Council’s Statement of Principle

Last Monday evening, September 25th, the City of Spokane City Council voted to formally denounce Mayor Woodward for her August 20th appearance on stage with Matt Shea and Sean Feucht, two preachers of hate and exclusion. The “Let Us Worship” event and the Mayor’s participation in it was covered nationally as a showcase of Christian nationalism in Spokane—a designation the City Council sought to expel by condemning the Mayor’s appearance with Matt Shea.

RESOLUTION NO. 2023-0081 as written (and copied in its entirety below) is as much a statement of principle—that the citizens of Spokane and its City Council “pledge to accept and serve all citizens of our community, regardless of race, religion, color, and sexual identity; and will never accept ideologies that promote fear, hatred, violence, and bigotry”—as it is a specific denouncement of the Mayor’s action. Had the Council remained silent it could be accused of lending its approval to Shea’s and Feucht’s doctrine. 

The statement of principle was ignored in the coverage of the Council’s meeting in the Spokesman the next day—and, sadly, few will have (or take) the time to locate and read the Resolution itself. Deplorably, the Spokesman covered the event as a two-sides political controversy between the Council members on the one side and the Mayor and her followers and defenders on the other. 

Predictably, almost as though it were orchestrated from some central messaging authority, Woodward’s defenders played the “persecution of Christians” card—as if Shea’s and Feucht’s twisting of biblical text to support their hateful preaching deserved defense rather than condemnation by all Christians. 

Former Washington State Representative Matt Shea, a self-appointed non-denominational pastor of “On Fire Ministries”, is a credibly accused domestic terrorist. He is a leader in a movement that seeks to establish dominion over all arms of government and rule everyone under law based on his and his allies’ particular interpretation of Christian teaching. He and his allies justify the dominion they seek under the false claim that the United States was established as an exclusively Christian nation and, therefore, should be governed under biblical law and Jesus’ word. If that sounds appealing, the catch, of course, is that it is biblical law and Jesus’ word as filtered by the like of Matt Shea and his followers—including many allies who have again taken over the leadership of the Spokane County Republican Party. How convenient: Government based on the warped interpretation of scripture of a far right religious cult confident in its Bible-based self-righteousness and divine guidance, a cult teaching intolerance of any lifestyle or belief system other than its own. What could go wrong?

It is long past time to understand that Matt Shea and Sean Feucht represent one particularly dangerous strand among the streams of faith the make up the Christian and broader religious communities in eastern Washington and in the nation. RESOLUTION NO. 2023-0081 refers to a “letter from a collective of Spokane faith leaders”. Read it here. Many did not see the letter because the Spokesman declined to publish it as a guest opinion, leaving the false impression that most people of faith in eastern Washington stand with the like of Matt Shea.

Mayor Woodward defended herself with repeated apologies for her attendance at the Shea/Feucht event, saying she was not aware Shea would be at the event and she should have better researched it ahead of time. If one believes that then we have as a Mayor someone so clueless that she has unqualified to serve. If, on the other hand, one assumes that she was attempting to curry favor with Matt Shea’s followers (and, by extension, the SpokaneGOP—which declined to endorse her in the mayoral primary in August), hoping she could slide “under the radar”, then she is now lying in an attempt to avoid the blowback. Feucht is clearly happy to raise money off the controversy as reported by Aaron Hedges of Range Media, For his part, Shea, on his August 24th Patriot radio broadcast widely played on the American Christian Network, openly contradicted Woodward’s characterization of her attendance as a last minute opportunity to pray for the victims of wildfires. In his broadcast Shea asserts that Woodward had been invited and accepted before wildfires even started. 

The reaction of Shea’s followers to the City Council resolution in favor of an inclusive, welcoming Spokane were predictable. From the Spokesman articlepublished the day after Monday’s Council Meeting:

Debate stretched late into the night, with dozens in attendance either calling for Woodward to be denounced or criticizing the council members as attacking the mayor’s freedom of religion and Christianity itself. Several called council members a force of evil, religious bigots and compared them to Satan.

If you have any doubt regarding Shea and what he preaches please read “‘I Want to See It Rule’: Matt Shea Unabashedly Promotes Seven Mountains Dominionism and Christian Nationalism”. Watching the video linked in the article is tedious, but instructive. Shea is open about his intentions. Considering that Shea, Bob McCaslin, and Rob Chase have been tireless promoters of the theocratic State of Liberty for years, Shea’s current preaching should surprise no one.

Keep to the high ground,


Here is the actual text of the City of Spokane’s City County Resolution as presented for a vote at the City Council meeting on September 25th. It is worth you time to read it. It is copied from the city-council-current-agenda-2023-09-25, starting on the pdf’s document page 427—where it is unlikely to be found, much less read by most Spokanites:

RESOLUTION NO. 2023-0081 A Resolution formally denouncing Mayor Nadine Woodward for her actions that associated her with former Washington State Representative and alleged domestic terrorist, Matt Shea, and known anti-LGBTQ extremist Sean Feucht. WHEREAS, Matt Shea represented the 4th legislative district in the Washington House of Representatives from 2009 to 2021; and WHEREAS, an independent investigation commissioned by the Washington State House of Representatives found that “Representative Shea, as a leader in the Patriot Movement, planned, engaged in and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States Government in three states outside the state of Washington over a three-year period;” and WHEREAS, this independent investigation found that Shea “has also used fear to intimidate those who directly oppose him politically…” and Shea and the Patriot Movement “… rely on radicalization of individuals to the point they are willing to take up arms against the United States to carry out their objectives;” and WHEREAS, Matt Shea has distributed a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War” which in part states, “If they do not yield – kill all males;” and WHEREAS, on August 20, 2023, Mayor Nadine Woodward was at a public event accepting the support of Matt Shea; and WHEREAS, video images of the public event show that minutes before calling Mayor Nadine Woodward on stage, Matt Shea listed the problems he believes the country is facing, specifically naming homosexual marriage and transgender issues; and WHEREAS, while thousands of people had to evacuate their homes over the same weekend due to the numerous wildfires in our region, and while our brave first responders worked tirelessly to fight the wildfires, video images of the public event also show Mr. Feucht called for a “fire that would consume Spokane;” and WHEREAS, video images of the public event show that, following her appearance on stage with Shea and Feucht, Mayor Woodward embraced Shea; and WHEREAS, many members of the Spokane community have raised concerns about this public appearance and the implications of Mayor Woodward accepting support from Matt Shea; and WHEREAS, members of the Spokane community have called on elected officials to take responsibility and lead by example and to uphold the values of respect, inclusivity, and compassion; and 2 WHEREAS, the people of Spokane deserve leadership that upholds the highest standards of integrity, empathy, and respect for all, regardless of their background or beliefs; and WHEREAS, on August 24, 2023, the Spokane City Council received a letter from a collective of Spokane faith leaders in which they called on the Spokane City Council to hold fast to the separation of church and state, reject attempts to cloak bigotry in religious language, and make clear that civic leaders give no support to the ideology of Christian Nationalism or white supremacy; and WHEREAS, the Spokane City Council does not condone the hateful and dangerous behavior and beliefs espoused by Matt Shea and Sean Feucht, nor does it condone Mayor Woodward’s public appearance with him; and WHEREAS, on February 8, 2016, the Spokane City Council passed resolution 2016-0014, which expressed the Council’s desire to sign the International Charter for Compassionate Communities; and WHEREAS, Mayor David Condon signed this charter on February 22, 2016; and WHEREAS, choosing to uphold the principles of compassion is central to a community’s ability to create a caring and inclusive culture and climate; and WHEREAS, on July 10, 2023, the Spokane City Council passed ordinance C36403, which adopted as the motto of the City the phrase “In Spokane We All Belong;” and WHEREAS, Mayor Woodward’s public appearance at the event has received negative, national attention in Rolling Stone and The Washington Post; and NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the Spokane City Council formally denounces Mayor Nadine Woodward for her actions that associated her with an alleged domestic terrorist, former Representative Matt Shea, who has participated in the planning of taking arms up against the United States of America, and denounces her preplanned attendance that associates her with known anti-LGBTQ extremist, Sean Feucht, and hateful rhetoric; and BE IT ALSO RESOLVED, that the Spokane City Council maintains its collective pledge to accept and serve all citizens of our community, regardless of race, religion, color, and sexual identity; and will never accept ideologies that promote fear, hatred, violence, and bigotry; and BE IT ALSO RESOLVED, consistent with its official motto, it is the aspiration of the City of Spokane to enhance the quality of life and to promote sense of belonging for every single citizen, and that City of Spokane will continue to help make Spokane a better place – where people feel safe, seen, and heard.

Re-Focusing on Homelessness

To Meaningfully Address a Problem One Must First Understand It

Despite nearly four years of Mayor Woodward’s administration policies and money spent it is obvious that Woodward’s signature election issue, (visible) homelessness, is little changed. It is past time to re-focus.

The article by Matthew Anderson, Ph.D., Professor of Urban & Regional Planning at EWU, that I have pasted below from RANGE Media should be required reading for every American. You cannot fix a problem without understanding and addressing its roots. Hint: It is not a fundamental failure of morals—as some would have us believe.

Keep to the high ground,


Click on the underlined title below to see additional content from this article, become acquainted with RANGE Media, and consider becoming a paid subscriber to RANGE. The young people at RANGE are doing important work in our community. They deserve our support. 

Our homeless policy is like putting a bandaid on internal bleeding

Spokane — and America — will never fix homelessness until it gets serious about providing housing for all levels of the market.

Editor’s Note: I first started worrying about the connection between housing affordability and homelessness in Spokane in 2017, when many of the young artists we worked with at Terrain began telling us rents were rising so much, they were worried about losing their housing altogether. From the 2019 elections to today, I’ve been deeply frustrated by how little effort our leaders or the media have put into publicly connecting the dots between the twin crises of housing and homelessness, then using that lens to build policy around. We can’t even really bring ourselves to have the conversation. Instead we spend the vast majority of our time and energy on visible homelessness, mental health and drug abuse, which is like putting bandaid after bandaid on an arterial bleed: it might look like it’s helping, but it’s time and labor intensive, and doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Until you repair the artery, the bleeding is going to continue below the surface. Eventually, the patient will bleed out.

When the RANGE team read Matthew Anderson’s recent paper on the reactionary role of private business groups on public homeless policy in Spokane and Portland, we asked if he was interested in using expertise to draw those connections, and hopefully ignite an expansive conversation about alleviating homelessness with truly holistic housing policy. Here’s that piece. It’s long, but this stuff is complicated, and deserves so much more attention than it has been given to date. Give it a read, and share it around — Luke [Baumgarten]

Homelessness has increased dramatically in recent years in Spokane, becoming a major topic of public debate. It was the biggest issue in the 2019 mayor’s race, by far, and it has only become more central as the housing crisis has worsened. 

The number of unsheltered Spokanites in 2017 was 138 according to the Regional Point-In-Time (PIT) Count. By 2023, the figure was 955. The rise in housing prices over the same period has been just as dramatic: In 2016, the median home sales price in Spokane was $172,000. It peaked in 2022 at above $430,000. In the first half of 2017 (when the PIT count was calculated), the average rent in Spokane County was $913, according to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research. Today, it’s $1,314, a 44% increase. 

Over that same period, the average wage in Spokane has grown about 25% (from $22.75 per hour in 2017 to $28.56 in 2022), but the inflation rate over that same period is roughly 22%, nullifying many of those gains. Approximately 31% of Spokanites earn less than $17.50 per hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s no wonder that, out of nearly 1,000 Spokane renters surveyed last year, 60% reported having to take out a loan to pay rent.

These figures are in no way unique to Spokane, but reflect a broader national phenomenon. As a professor in urban planning at Eastern Washington University who studies the connection between housing market dynamics and homelessness, I find myself in the odd situation of straddling two very different worlds related to this topic. In many communities like Spokane, the academic knowledge about the drivers and effective management of homelessness — which generally focuses on finding enough affordable housing to keep people off the streets — is starkly disconnected from the public debate — which overwhelmingly focuses on issues like drug use and mental health struggles that tend to show up in visibly unsheltered people. 

While drawing on my own research findings from a study I just co-authored with my students, I hope to bring these two disparate worlds into much closer dialogue in an effort to provide readers with the broader historical context on this topic that I find to be missing in the public consciousness. 

Context of a crisis

Homelessness has been around in the United States since the founding of our country. However, there is a consensus in urban studies scholarship (12) that the surge in homelessness that we are experiencing today can be traced to policy reforms that were implemented in the 1980s by the Reagan Administration. Specifically impactful was the large-scale withdrawal of federal funding from local governments and cuts to social welfare programs (like public housing) and mental health institutions. 

Cities used to rely much more heavily on federal funding to balance their budgets. Under Reagan, this was deemed a form of welfare that needed to be cut to discipline local governments into finding their own sources of tax revenue. Consequently, maintaining public housing was no longer prioritized (nor was anything else that did not generate revenue). This is also the moment when homelessness became linked to mental illness, as those who were previously housed in federally funded mental health institutions were now pushed out onto the streets.

Our country has slowly and methodically whittled away our social safety net and the impacts of this have been extensively examined in urban studies and beyond. Most strikingly, this immediately resulted in homeless epidemics in the most expensive cities in the 1980s, particularly New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as demonstrated in landmark publications at the time by urban scholars like Michael Dear, Jennifer Wolch, Neil Smith, and Mike Davis. This epidemic has since spread across the country to mark the experience of any metropolitan region where the gap between average wages and housing prices has widened, which has been happening in Spokane since around 2016. 

In a capitalist economy, the unfortunate fact is there is no incentive for the private housing market to invest in housing that is affordable to the lowest wage earners, as every other type of housing promises greater profit margins. Without sufficient public investment in subsidies for low-income housing, some degree of homelessness is inevitable. This is not opinion, but a lesson we have known for well over 100 years, since horrific housing conditions in European and North American cities prompted governments to intervene in the form of public housing and eventually led to the first notable public housing investment in the 1910s and 1920s in Europe. 

Without substantial government involvement, a housing market driven by profit maximization does not serve the least fortunate members of society, an uncontroversial reality reflected in most urban planning textbooks. 

It seems like this is a lesson we have forgotten in the US, as nearly every other industrialized country in the world has a much better track record of using social housing to tackle homelessness. 

When this topic is discussed and debated in the US, it is as if the world ends with the boundaries of the US, which has led to the common impression that homelessness is impossible to solve. 

The experience of subsidized housing in the rest of the industrialized world, though, suggests that public housing is not a failed idea. The failure is in how the US administered it. It is also not a coincidence that homelessness barely exists in countries with robust subsidized housing, social welfare, and tenant rights legislation, such as Denmark, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Japan, among many others. 

(Anti)-Homeless Solutions

If defunding our social safety nets has set the stage for this crisis today, this is not to imply that we have spent nothing to address and manage homelessness in the US. Quite the contrary. Funding has instead poured into shelter facilities with myriad service providers on the front lines managing the complex dynamics in play for each unhoused person they are assigned to help. 

However, in the 1990s and 2000s, the general approach taken by elected and prominent business leaders across the US was rooted in criminalization, noting the proliferation of what are often characterized as “anti-homeless” laws (e.g., sit and lie ordinancescamping banspublic park closure times, etc.). The goal was to stereotype and consequently demonize the unhoused in the media as drug-addicted sociopaths unworthy of public assistance, and a means of gaining public support for these laws which, effectively, criminalized the very act of being homeless. 

Not only were the unhoused victimized by an increasingly deregulated housing and labor market, but the spaces they are forced to occupy were now increasingly taken away from them (at least without committing a crime), a visceral reality notably examined by Jeremy Waldron, Nick Blomley and Don Mitchell, among many others. The visibility of homelessness, especially in downtown retail corridors, was deemed the primary problem. While solving homelessness might require big investments in housing, the thinking was that cities could arrest their way out of visible homelessness relatively inexpensively. This tactic was pursued and tested in most large US cities experiencing homelessness as a way of “taking back the city.” After 15-20 years of this approach, however, coupled with the effects of the Great Recession in 2008, it became clear the tactic failed. It has proven to be an endless mission, as homelessness has only worsened and proliferated across the country, with jails and prisons becoming our de-facto mental health institutions. (We can see the conclusion of these policies where better mental health outcomes are being used to argue for building a new jail. — editors)

The approach taken today, as examined by Chris Herring, Jessie Speer, Brian Hennigan, Geoff DeVerteuil, and Antonin Margier, among many others, is one where the unhoused are generally portrayed in more compassionate language, though many of the same “anti-homeless” laws are still in place, alongside stepped-up funding for expanding and increasing shelter capacity and services with increasing and active involvement from private-sector coalitions. This is only a band-aid: imagine that we are in an emergency room, and that we are experiencing a surge of people entering the waiting room with traffic-related injuries. We should absolutely invest in adequate staffing, operating rooms and bigger waiting rooms, so that we can quickly treat people with serious injuries. 

But we must also address why the streets have become less safe

If the streets were much safer, we wouldn’t have so many injured patients entering the waiting room, and it probably wouldn’t be as costly, either. Crisis-prevention costs are usually less than dealing with the crisis after the fact. This is, again, more or less substantiated by the experience of the rest of the industrialized world. And it isn’t just true of countries who have had robust public housing policy for decades. Finland has successfully lessened homelessness by 80%, turning many unhoused people into paying renters, through actions implemented in the last decade.

Housing first

Until we recognize homelessness begins with a massive lack of housing at the lowest-income section of the market, we have every reason to assume that homelessness will only persist, and will likely get worse. More and/or greater enforcement of “anti-homeless” laws, increasing shelter capacities, and even improving our collaborative response (as implied in the new “Spokane Unite” initiative to create a new regional development authority) will do little without creating the necessary affordable housing units. 

Merely enabling the private sector to build more units, as is almost always championed by the real estate industry, will also do nothing to alleviate this crisis unless the units are affordable to the lowest-wage earners in the region. The past 100 years of evidence suggests that the private sector will fail to do this without sufficient public subsidies to make it worth their while.

A common mantra in the real-estate industry is that we just need to lower the barriers to development, as in increasing the urban growth area, lessening development fees, etc., and making development more attractive to more investors. The result will be more units on the market at all levels, and prices will adjust accordingly. 

But when this hypothesis has been tested (particularly by economic sociologists and planners), the results have been mixed at best, and while it certainly serves the interests of developers and builders, more new units do not necessarily lead to falling prices, contrary to conventional supply-demand logic. In fact, following a report by David Giles in 2017, central Seattle experienced both increasing vacancies and increasing prices, all after years of Seattle trying to build its way out of the affordable housing crisis with tall apartment and condo projects of mostly market-rate units. 

New housing construction is often followed by increases in prices, not decreases. In short, housing markets are almost always mediated by myriad socio-political dynamics which render the “build more, and prices will drop” hypothesis anything but a foregone conclusion.

Hostility at visibility

All things considered, Spokane’s housing crisis has come relatively recently, well after many larger cities tried the solutions above and found them inadequate or completely ineffective. 

Rather than take those lessons and work with what are emerging best practices, the dominant approach taken by much of Spokane’s coalition of government and private-sector interests follows the now well-tested-and-failed approach of criminalization. This approach is veiled by compassionate language like in other cities (e.g., Portland, San Diego, Seattle, etc.), but attendance at various public symposiums and venues on this topic in Spokane casts the impression that invested private sector actors are only concerned about the visibility of unhoused people in the downtown corridor. 

Because addiction and mental illness is what we tend to see, it is easy to conclude that all homeless people are afflicted with these conditions. We typically don’t realize that many more unhoused people remain out of sight, as there are just as many (if not more) who do not suffer from addiction and/or mental illness, at least based on the past few decades of PIT counts across the country. 

But if a person’s status as unhoused is not visible, then their presence is not necessarily threatening the profit margins of downtown businesses, nor is it applying pressure on elected officials. Indeed, such people might as well not exist. As such, as our recent study concludes (although the rhetoric has shifted somewhat recently), invested private sector actors and allied elected leaders do not seem to care about homelessness itself. Homelessness only becomes a problem when it is visibly threatening consumer traffic on the street.

It should not be surprising, then, that addiction and mental health are overwhelmingly the focus in this approach, as these two conditions are what makes homelessness a problem for affected downtown businesses, not the fact that these people are unhoused, which unfortunately only perpetuates this myth in the public consciousness. 

I do not want to cast the impression that I do not have sympathy for the plight of downtown businesses affected by this, but merely to make the point that the approach being taken does not serve anybody’s interest, including their own. Conversely, however, there are many other practitioners in the region that project a more genuinely compassionate attitude informed by the sentiment that nobody should be unhoused in the most affluent country in the world.Another myth is that the unsheltered homeless choose not to go to a shelter because they’d rather stay on the street to do drugs. Again, decades of surveys, ethnographies and PIT count data has shown that the top reasons people don’t go to shelters is because of fear of theft, violence, sexual assault, anxiety and certain shelter rules (i.e., pets not being allowed). Evidently, many unhoused people have deemed the streets safer than our shelters. And even if all unhoused people did suffer from addiction and/or mental illness, how can we explain the fact that the vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness do not become homeless? This, then, cannot be the explanation.

All of these factors can make it hard to make ends meet to maintain housing. Now factor in the widening gap between wages and housing prices sapping people’s income and savings, and it’s pretty clear why we have more vulnerable households than we had 10 years ago in Spokane. In fact, this metric alone — the gap between average wages and housing prices — has been shown to determine homeless levels with striking predictability across the US, as exhibited most powerfully by Greg Colburn and Clayton Aldern in their book, Homelessness is a Housing Problem.

If you are not lucky enough to have a sufficient support network of friends or family willing or capable of taking you in, then you might find yourself on the street. And in fact, that is exactly what we have seen in Spokane since 2017, with numbers shifting sharply upward during the pandemic. If housing had not become so expensive in Spokane, then the segment of unhoused people dealing with addiction/mental illness would more likely be able to manage these conditions behind closed doors (like most other people suffering from these conditions).

Rising housing prices leave us all drowning

So, if escalating housing prices alongside stagnant wages without sufficient subsidized housing and mental health treatment options has produced this problem, what has actually caused housing prices to rise so dramatically in Spokane? A number of factors should be noted: it is no secret that the Spokane region has been inundated with migrants from much more expensive urban regions. Even with housing prices more than doubling in Spokane since 2016, Spokane is still comparatively a much better value than, for example, San Francisco where the median home sales price peaked at over $1.6 million in 2022. 

While I understand why someone might relocate to Spokane for this reason, you are, at least to some degree, actively contributing to this escalating problem when doing so, as well as others who “flip” older homes to cater to this emergent pool of prospective buyers. If we had substantially more subsidized housing for those priced out of the market, then this wouldn’t necessarily matter. But that’s not the city — or nation — world we live in.

In fact, since 2010, what low-income rental stock exists across the US has increasingly become the property of just a handful of large-scale investment firms and real estate investment trusts, entities that are also increasingly investing in each other’s portfolios, according to a recent study by Renee Tapp and Richard Peiser.

The result of this trend is that prospective home buyers begin to downscale their expectations by considering housing that they would not have previously considered, with the lowest-income buyers pushed out of the market altogether and onto a rental market where, consequently, vacancies have evaporated. 

In this environment, landlords are able to raise rents and evict those who cannot afford the new rent or cash out by selling to developers or wealthier people who would intend to owner-occupy. In many cases, the tenant gets evicted and affordable housing for the lowest segment of the population vanishes, with nothing taking its place at the bottom of the market. 

I have had multiple students in my classes at EWU tell me that this has happened to them. Landlords who do this are contributing to the problem, which further underscores the inherent conflict of interest for private landlords serving low-income populations. 

The moment there’s more profit to be had, you can expect people to cash out.

Combine all of this with the fact that the majority of Spokane consists of single-family homes, which are the least efficient way of housing people, constraining our ability to increase supply. And while recent zoning changes have made it easier to build multifamily housing across all of Spokane, that does not mean those units magically flash into existence. 

The other problem here is NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard), where nobody wants to live in a community with multifamily housing, which seems to be code for “poverty” in the minds of many. The fear is that new multifamily apartment buildings will result in declining property values. 

While I can understand this sentiment as well, the actual evidence of this happening is mixed, and in some cases the new market construction has resulted in increased property values in the surrounding area. Regardless, resisting the building of new housing units (for whatever reason) is also actively contributing to this problem. 

When I broach the subject of more subsidized housing in conversation (with family, friends, students, developers, policy makers, etc.), I am often met with comments like “This is America, this isn’t realistic here.” If this is, in fact, true, then it suggests there is something intrinsic about the United States that makes this a bigger problem than in other countries. It means we — as Americans — all share in some responsibility and, thus, burden for (wittingly or not) subjecting more of our less fortunate fellow Americans to this cruel fate.

Our long national (and local) crossroads

In the context of homelessness, Spokane, and America more broadly, is at a crossroads, and we need to ask ourselves about our priorities: How much is it worth to live in a society without homelessness? 

Since the Great Recession, homelessness has been on the rise globally. Wealthy European countries like Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom that implemented sizeable austerity budget cuts to subsidized housing programs and tenants rights legislation have, predictably, seen notable increases in unhoused individuals. Yet, the phenomenon still tends to pale in comparison to the US. 

A particularly strong approach that has received notable praise internationally is Vienna’s housing program. First, Vienna is among the biggest producers of public housing in Europe, and it looks nothing like the tenement housing projects that marked the US experience. It also comprises a mix of housing types (including high-rises, low-rise apartments, townhomes and others), that are difficult to visually distinguish from market-rate housing and are not as segregated from the rest of the city. Perhaps most importantly, the buildings are well funded and maintained, with modern amenities like swimming pools, not typically associated with public housing. As a result, not only do Austrian housing policies allow middle-class people to apply to live in these buildings, the buildings are nice enough to attract the middle class, resulting in real mixed-income neighborhoods.

This system also allows people more autonomy: once tenants begin making more money, they are not kicked out. They are allowed to stay if they wish, which means that most public housing over time has become more mixed-income, rather than the concentrated poverty that plagued US experiments in public housing during the 20th century. It is also not stigmatized to the same degree either, as up to 44% of the housing stock in Vienna is socialized (as of 2019). 

In Austria, then, the society is in agreement that public housing isn’t just a social good, it’s culturally desirable. 

And cities like Vienna are by no means cheap to live in. The median Vienese home sales price is over $1.3 million this year, but homelessness is kept comparatively in check so long as the government continues to produce the requisite affordable housing units. According to a report by Roger Rudick, Vienna has more than twice the population of San Francisco (1.9 million to 887,000). Yet, San Francisco has over four times the number of unhoused individuals. Vienna also has three times as many housing units in total (1,050,000 compared to 340,140), with a much higher share of this housing deemed affordable to low-income populations due to government intervention, subsidies and more favorable tenant rights. 

Nearly 80% of the population in Vienna are renters, and public housing tenants pay only a fifth of their post-tax income on housing. Some pay as little as 10%

Homelessness still exists in Vienna, to the tune of 2,200 unhoused individuals per a recent report — roughly the same as the 2,300 documented in Spokane during this year’s PIT count — yet Vienna has over 8 times as many residents as Spokane. 

The caveat here is that other countries often have varying definitions of homelessness which render direct comparisons of this nature to be problematic, but one thing is fairly certain: visible homelessness is markedly lower in Vienna as well, as with cities like Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki. These are also not countries without addiction and mental health problems, but the safety nets are generally still in place to keep these people housed. 

It’s important to ensure everyone in Spokane has access to mental health and addiction support if they need it. Until we get serious about re-evaluating the merits of subsidized housing and stronger tenant rights legislation, though, homelessness in Spokane and other cities like it in the US is all but guaranteed to stay.



Matthew Anderson is a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Eastern Washington University, and is the co-author of a recent paper that examines the role of for-profit businesses, non-governmental organizations and private-sector coalitions in shaping municipal responses to homelessness that punish and retaliate against the unhoused. The paper studied responses in Portland and Spokane.

Washington State Insurance Commissioner

A Opportunity to Meet an Outstanding Candidate for this Open Seat in 2024

On Monday, October 2nd, from 11AM to 1:00PM the Spokane County Democrats will host Washington State Senator and candidate for Washington State Insurance Commissioner Patty Kuderer at a buffet luncheon at the Longhorn Barbecue West at 7611 W Sunset Hwy. I spoke with her for nearly an hour in preparing this post. She is an impressive candidate with a compelling personal history. I urge those of my readers who can to sign up to meet with her over lunch. Click here to sign up and get a ticket.

Patty Kuderer was a practicing trial attorney specializing in consumer advocacy in the Seattle area for more than a decade when she, somewhat reluctantly, accepted an appointment to the Washington State House from the 48th Legislative District (Bellevue more or less) in 2015. Two years later she accepted an appointment to the Washington State Senate from the same district. She has served in the Washington State Senate since then, holding her seat in the 2018 and 2022 elections with 60 and then 70 percent of the vote, respectively. After talking with her, those sorts of margins are easy to understand. 

Senator Kuderer signed up with the Public Disclosure Commission in May of 2023 as a candidate for Insurance Commissioner. A Republican opponent,Michele A Forgues Lackie signed up in July. One must expect that the insurance industry will field and lavishly fund this or another opponent before the 2024 election. 

Senator Kuderer’s tenure in the Washington State Senate demonstrates that she doesn’t just cast a vote, she does the real work of legislating. It was her bill, Senate Bill 5082, signed into law in April of this year, that finally rid us of the taxpayer-funded, wasteful Republican anti-tax propaganda of advisory votes, those puzzling, non-binding, useless choices that took up at least a page or two of every ballot we have filled out in this state for the last sixteen years. These advisory votes are just one of the products of the despicable Republican operative, Tim Eyman’s, efforts to subvert the initiative process in Washington State in the service of Republican propaganda. Senator Kuderer deserves high praise for her years-long effort to clean up Eyman’s tracks. If you have a few minutes I highly recommend watching Senator Kuderer’s presentation of her Bill to the Senate State Government & Elections Committee on January 10, 2023. Here’s the link. Slide the cursor to 33:00 minutes to witness the elegance of her presentation.

Getting rid of advisory is just one striking example (and obviously a favorite of mine) of legislation Senator Kuderer has toiled away on in the State Legislature. Come have with her on October 2nd to hear more. Again, here’s the link to sign up for lunch.

Senator Kuderer would make a superb Insurance Commissioner. She deserves our early support. 

What Does the Insurance Commissioner Do? — Read On

According to Wikipedia only twelve states in the union elect a state insurance commissioner. The job of insurance commissioner in the State of Washington is an important one:

“The Washington State Insurance Commissioner is a public official responsible for overseeing and regulating the insurance industry within the state of Washington. This includes all types of insurance, ranging from home and automobile all the way to insurance for people’s pets. The Insurance Commissioner’s job also is to be the consumer advocate for the people of Washington state, protecting their interests and ensuring (no pun intended) insurance companies operating within the state comply with relevant laws and regulations.”

We ought to want an insurance commissioner equipped to strongly advocate for consumers in dealing with the morass that is health insurance in our state, to say nothing of the difficulties people are facing with some insurance companies in claims around loss of homes in climate driven disasters like our recent wildfires.

Current Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, now age 79, has announced that he will retire at the end of his term in 2024 after 24 years. An optometrist by training, Kreidler’s path to insurance commissioner included stints in both the Washington State House and Senate (and a degree as Master of Public Health [MPH]). 

I hope to see you on October 2 at the Longhorn barbecue. 

Keep to the high ground,


FUSE with Special Guest, Governor Inslee

A Week From Today–A Spokane Gathering and Fundraiser

This just in from Jim Dawson, Eastern Washington Director for Fuse Washington, the people and organization who bring you the highly recommended Progressive Voter’s Guide:

Subject: Raise a toast to Mayor Woodward’s early retirement

Thursday, Sept. 28th from 5-7pm at Champagne for Change, with Governor Inslee,  in the Common House at the Haystack Heights CoHousing Community on the lower South Hill.(See below for more details and a ticket link.) I hope to see you there.

Champagne for Change updated image.png

Dear Friends, 

Having a MAGA Mayor running the City of Spokane has been a disaster. Mayor Woodward’s recent embrace of known domestic terrorist Matt Shea at a Christian Nationalist political event to receive his endorsement is only the latest example. She has also politicized the houseless crisis by slowing down the closure of Camp Hope and gave one of her biggest political donors a sweetheart contract for a homeless shelter at a warehouse with inhumane conditions including no indoor plumbing. 

Join us on Sept. 28th from 5-7pm at Champagne for Change with Governor Inslee to support Fuse’s work in Spokane to send Mayor Woodward into an early retirement by electing progressive champion Lisa Brown! It’s our best chance to win back the Mayor’s office in over a decade and to protect the progressive majority on the City Council. 

Can we count on you to attend Champagne for Change?

Click HERE:  Buy your tickets today!

Event Details: 
What: Champagne for Change, includes hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a champagne toast
Where: September 28th from 5-7 PM
Where: Haystack Heights Common House 731 S. Garfield St. Spokane, WA 99202

We know wealthy corporate developers and their big business allies will spend record amounts to elect their conservative puppets who will put their profits before the good of our community. Only with your support can we stop them by mobilizing thousands of voters to elect progressive leaders who will stand up for our community. 

Can’t attend the event? You can still make a donation to support our local organizing! 

Get updates about the event and invite your friends on Facebook:

Check out the Facebook event

Thanks for all that you do, 
Jim and the entire team at Fuse

Celebrating 11 Years of Mobilizing Heroes and Organizing Resistance

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Sometimes Events are Seen Most Clearly in the Rearview Mirror

The Sixtieth Anniversary of the Birmingham Church Bombing

As a white teenager in a white suburb of Milwaukee my original experience the civil rights movement of the 1960s one television news article at a time. Memory of that era—at least for me—was one of fragmented events that I did not initially understand or fully appreciate. Last Friday as I read historian Heather Cox Richardson’s story centered on the sixtieth anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, those fragments again came into vivid focus. The events that led up to and followed the race-inspired murder of four girls—people I see as innocent fellow humans—the memory of the contorted faces of hate borne by white men and women alike screaming at black children, cheering on Bull Connor’s policemen training firehoses and billy clubs on unarmed protestors—those vivid memories of news stories of the 1960s came flooding back. I wept. Still more poignant was the reminder that such twisted hate in varied forms lives on in the hearts of some people today, including increasing numbers who veil their hate in a malignant form of religion they claim as true Christianity—a Christianity I find unrecognizable. It doesn’t ever go away. It just lies quietly waiting for some demagogue to give it voice—in an era like the one in which we now live. 

Keep to the high ground,


September 15, 2023 (Friday)


At 10:22 this morning, a Jewish temple in Birmingham, Alabama, blew the shofar, and churches rang their bells four times. 

It was at that moment, sixty years ago, that a bomb ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It was Youth Day in the historic brick church on Sunday, September 15, 1963, and five young girls dressed in their Sunday best were in the ladies’ lounge getting ready for their part in the Sunday service that was about to start. As Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were chatting and adjusting their dresses, a charge of dynamite stashed under the steps that led to the church sanctuary blasted into the ladies lounge, killing the four girls instantly. Standing at the sink in the back of the room, Addie’s sister Sarah survived with serious injuries. 

Just five days before, Black children had entered formerly all-white schools after an August court order required an end to segregation in Birmingham’s public schools. This decision capped a fight over integration that had begun just after the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. 

In that same year, in the wake of the successful 381-day Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott to protest that city’s segregated bus system, Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, along with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and strategist and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, started the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to challenge segregation through nonviolent protest, rather than trusting the work to the courts alone. 

On September 9, 1957, Shuttlesworth and his wife Ruby, along with other Black parents, tried to enroll their children in the city’s all-white flagship John Herbert Phillips High School. A mob of white Ku Klux Klansmen met them at the school, attacking them with chains and bats; someone stabbed Ruby Shuttlesworth in the hip with a pocketknife, and an amateur videographer captured a man named Bobby Frank Cherry on video reaching for brass knuckles before diving back into the attack on Shuttlesworth. 

Cherry had no children at the school.

Over the next several years, the Ku Klux Klan lost the political struggle over civil rights, and its members increasingly turned to public violence. There were so many bombings of civil rights leaders’ homes and churches that the city became known as “Bombingham.” When the Freedom Riders, civil rights workers who rode interstate buses in mixed-race groups to challenge segregation, came through Birmingham, police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor looked the other way as KKK members beat the riders with baseball bats, chains, rocks, and lead pipes. 

Connor was a perfect foil for civil rights organizers, who began a campaign of nonviolent direct action to challenge segregation in Birmingham. One of the organizers’ tactics was to attract national attention by provoking Connor, and participants in the movement began sit-ins at libraries, kneel-ins at white churches, and voter registration drives. Shuttlesworth invited King to Birmingham to help. 

In April 1963, Connor got an injunction barring the protests, and promised to fill the jails. He did. King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was a product of Connor’s vow, smuggled out of jail on bits of paper given to him by a sympathetic inmate. In the letter, King responded to those who opposed the civil rights protests and, claiming to support civil rights, said that the courts were the proper venue to address social injustice. King agreed that the protests created tension, but he explained that such tension was constructive: it would force the city’s leaders to negotiate. “‘Wait,’” he reminded them, “has almost always meant ‘never.’”

But Connor’s tactics had the chilling effect he intended, as demonstrators shied away from being arrested out of fear of losing their jobs and being unable to provide for their families. So organizers decided to invite children to join a march to the downtown area. When the children agreed, the SCLC held workshops on the techniques of nonviolence and warned them of the danger they would be facing. 

On May 2, 1963, they gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church, just blocks away from Birmingham’s City Hall. As students moved toward City Hall in waves, singing “We Shall Overcome,” police officers arrested more than 600 of them and blocked the streets with fire trucks. The national news covered the story.

The next day, Bull Connor tried another tactic to keep the young protesters out of the downtown: fire hoses set to the highest pressure. When observers started to throw rocks and bottles at the police with the fire hoses, Connor told police officers to use German shepherd dogs to stop them. Images from the day made the national news and began to galvanize support for the protesters.

By May 6, Connor had turned the state fairgrounds into a makeshift jail to hold the overflow of protesters he was arresting, and national media figures, musicians, and civil rights activists were arriving in Birmingham. By May 7 the downtown was shut down while Connor arrested more people and used fire hoses again. The events in Birmingham were headline news. 

By May 10, local politicians under pressure from businessmen had agreed to release the people who had been arrested; to desegregate lunch counters, drinking fountains, and bathrooms; and to hire Black people in a few staff jobs. 

After Connor’s insistence that he would never permit desegregation, white supremacists in Birmingham felt betrayed by the new deal, basic though it was. Violence escalated over the summer, even as King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was widely published and praised and as civil rights activists, fresh from the Birmingham campaign, on August 28 held the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., where King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. 

For white supremacists in Birmingham, the children and the 16th Street Baptist Church where they had organized were the symbols of the movement that had beaten them. 

Their fury escalated in summer 1963 when a lawsuit the Reverend Shuttlesworth had filed to challenge segregation in public schools ended in August with a judge ordering Birmingham public schools to desegregate. 

Five days after the first Black children entered a white school as students, four members of the Cahaba River Group, which had splintered off from another Ku Klux Klan group because they didn’t think it was aggressive enough, took action. Thomas Blanton, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, and Bobby Frank Cherry—the same man who in 1957 had beaten the Reverend Shuttlesworth with brass knuckles for trying to enroll his children in school—bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church. “Just wait until Sunday morning and they’ll beg us to let them segregate,” Chambliss had told his niece. 

The death of innocent children—on a Sunday morning, in a house of God—at the hands of white supremacists drew national attention. It woke up white people who had previously been leery of civil rights protests, making them confront the horror of racial violence in the South. Support for civil rights legislation grew, and in 1964 that support helped legislators to pass the Civil Rights Act. 

Still, it seemed as if the individual bombers would get away with their crimes. In 1968, the FBI investigation ended without indictments.

But it turned out the story wasn’t over. Bill Baxley, a young law student at the University of Alabama in 1963, was so profoundly outraged by the bombing that he vowed someday he would do something about it. In 1970, voters elected Baxley to be Alabama’s attorney general. He reopened the case, famously responding to a Ku Klux Klan threat by responding on official state letterhead: “kiss my *ss.” 

The reluctance of the FBI to share its evidence meant that Baxley charged and convicted only Robert Chambliss—whose nickname in 1963 was “Dynamite Bob”—for the murder of Denise McNair. 

But still the story wasn’t over. Another young lawyer named Doug Jones was in the courtroom during that trial, and in 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Jones as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Jones pursued the case, uncovering old evidence and finding new witnesses. Herman Cash had died, but in 2001 and 2002, representing the state of Alabama, Jones successfully prosecuted Thomas Edwin Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry for first-degree murder. 

Chambliss, Cherry, and Blanton all died in prison: Chambliss in 1985, Cherry in 2004. Blanton died in 2020.


If you’re interested in this history, this is a must-watch:

The Semi Bird Recall–Another Lesson

Richland Washington Recalls Three School Board Members

In the Washington State Primary Election held this last August 1 the voters of the Richland School District in south central Washington, one of the Tri Cities in Benton County, were offered the opportunity to recall three members of the five member school board, [Misipati] Semi Bird, Audra Byrd, and Kari Williams. In that election each of them lost their seat with between 53.3 and 54.5% of the votes cast in favor of recall out of roughly 19,700 . (Nearly 700 more Richland School District voters turned in ballots in this 2023 August Primary election than did in the electorally comparable 2021 August Primary—an increase of 3.7%. Voter motivation to actually cast a ballot can be critical in a society where voting isn’t mandatory.)

The same recall charges appeared on the ballot for each of the three trustees:

The charges that [insert name], Richland School Board, Position [insert number], committed misfeasance, malfeasance, and/or violated his oath of office allege that he: 

1. Violated the Open Public Meetings Act by voting at a special meeting taking final action on a matter, to wit: masking optional, that had not been included in the published public meeting agenda. 

2. Voted to make masks at schools optional, in knowing violation of the law and in excess of the powers of a school board, even after warnings from the State and from legal counsel. 

3. Violated District Policies and Procedures by failing to assure compliance with law and policy.

In other words, these three, Bird, Byrd, and Williams, knowingly overstepped the legal authority granted a school board in the State of Washington in order to express their right wing anti-mask zealotry. Worse, they had conspiratorially violated Washington State’s Open Public Meetings Act and regulations regarding special meetings in order to take their vote without a proper community airing.

The wording that appeared on the ballot on August 1 failed to fully capture the controversy Bird, Byrd, and Williams stirred up in the Richland community, much of which has centered around Misipati Semi Bird, a self-described “constitutional Christian conservative” and one of the last two of the three person voting bloc elected to the Richland School District board.

Here’s the background: Kari Williams was the “sleeper” on the board. She was elected in 2019, pre-pandemic, with 53% of the votes cast in the November General Election by 18,820 voters. Semi Bird and Audra Byrd were elected to the board in the 2021 November General Election (in the midst of the pandemic) by the same percentage of votes, but in an off year General election in which, somehow, roughly 2,400 more voters were motivated to turn in ballots than in 2019. 

With the leadership of Semi Bird and the votes of Audra Byrd and the previously elected Kari Williams the three were off and running with their right wing agenda within six weeks of Bird and Byrd taking office. The Recall effortsoon followed:

This recall is not about masks nor is it a partisan issue. The recall is about elected officials being held responsible for unlawful actions they took while in office.

On Tuesday, February 15, 2022, Richland School Board Directors Semi Bird, Audra Byrd, and Kari Williams participated in a special meeting, held a vote that was not included on the meeting agenda, and took the final action of making masks optional in Richland Schools, effective immediately. In doing so, they broke several Washington State laws and violated their oaths of office.

In addition, there is evidence that the three collaborated before the meeting to plan for taking the vote, which is in violation of RCW 42.30, the Open Public Meetings Act.[11]

It was a year and a half and a huge amount of effort to finally get the Recall on a ballot. The Washington State Constitution and the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) requires specifically stated grounds and judicial review of those grounds even before signature gathering can begin. In this Richland School Board the Recall effort passed through two rulings by the Benton County Superior Court and an appeal by the School Board to the Washington State Supreme Court before the ballot language quoted above was settled on and signature gathering could commence. Those legal maneuverings weren’t final until almost a year following the February 2022 initiation of the Recall effort. Meanwhile, because Bird, Byrd, and Williams held a majority position on the Richland School Board, one must presume that the Richland School District (i.e. the taxpaying public) was in the position of protecting these three from the Recall and covering the legal bill for their defense. 

If the extremist culture-warrior identity of Bird, Byrd, and Williams wasn’t already obvious it became so immediately following the successful recall:

The [Tri Cities] Herald also asked Audra Byrd by email Thursday for her response to the latest vote count, as well as about a Facebook post with her name telling Richland parents to pull their children out of Richland schools.

The post read in part, “This is heartbreaking news for our schools and our community children. … This will absolutely embolden our many indoctrinating teachers who already have been pushing inappropriate content on our students in secret ways. Now they have nothing to hold them back. Please do not naively keep your children in Richland School District. It will be to the destruction of their testimonies in Jesus Christ and any moral values you are teaching them in the home.”

Wow. These “indoctrinating” teachers pushing “inappropriate content” with the evil intent of destroying “testimonies in Jesus Christ” and “moral values”! 

But even that isn’t the end of the story. Seven months into the controversy of the Recall effort, while the Recall wording was still the subject of litigation, Misipati Semi Bird declared his candidacy (as a Republican) for governor of the State of Washington in 2024. As of September 16, 2023, Bird has gathered (and spent) one hundred and sixty-one thousand dollars as a gubernatorial candidate in the 2024 election, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. Mr. Bird possesses significant skills as an orator and uses those skills to sound much more reasonable than his tenure on the Richland School District School Board and his alliance with the above-quoted former fellow board member Audra Byrd would suggest. Bird carries all the credentials of a Fundamentalist Christian culture warrior. 

Where does he derive support? You ought not be surprised. This is the same Semi Bird who gave an hour and half long speech in Spokane on March 23, 2023, “in a room full of Activist PCOs”. One must presume these are the same “Activist PCOs” who took over the Spokane County Republican Party and elected Pastor Noble as the Party chairman in December of 2022. The video (also posted on Rumble) is featured on the website of the Spokane County Republican Party chaired by Pastor Brian Noble. Noble offers a half-hearted disclaimer, but also says that “Many PCOs have been asking for this video”. (Faintly branded in the lower right hand corner of the early frames of the video is “Northwest Grassroots”, the white supremacist, local, far right wing group that hosted James Allsup some years ago, resulting in the then chairwoman, Cecily Wright, stepping down from her position as chair of the SpokaneGOP.)

The moral of this story? Be sure to vote, but take care, look around, do some digging, before you vote in school board elections. You could wind up with your taxpayer dollars defending a right wing Fundamentalist ideologue whom your vote (or lack of voting) helped lodge in a seat of government. 

Before you leave, re-read and contemplate the words of the Facebook post of Audra Byrd pasted above. Remember the unveiling of those words as you research candidates in local school board races in which you will have a chance to cast a ballot starting next month.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. In a curious twist, the third recalled Richland School District board member, Kari Williams appeared on the August 1 Primary ballot both as a potential recall and as a primary contender for a second term in office. On the same ballot on which Ms. Williams was recalled she also garnered enough votes (but only 28% to the first place person’s 47%) to gain a position on the November General Election ballot this fall.