One of the most important issues of Spokane’s 2019 mayoral and city council campaign was the sole focus of a candidate forum Thursday. The four candidates for the two elected positions in Spokane were there to answer questions from a packed house.
From the third floor of the downtown library you can get a great view of the Spokane River and the gorge. But the view the four candidates were talking about on Thursday was much more grim. Some focused on people who congregate downtown, openly take illegal drugs and panhandle. A recent film commissioned by developer Larry Stone focuses on that side of crime and homelessness.
Council president candidate Cindy Wendle said the issue is a complex one, but she said the city cannot ignore the public safety side of it. She referred to a recent field trip she took with homeless outreach workers.
“When I sat there under the bridge and we are trying to help people get connected to services and I’m trying to talk to people and asking them where did you sleep last night, where did you have breakfast this morning, and I am watching people sit there, waiting for our homeless to come out from getting food at Catholic Charities for drug deals, I’m not ok with that. That’s not ok for this community,” Wendle said.
She says the city had signals as many as four years ago that the tight housing market would get even tighter, driving up home costs and rents. And yet, she said, the city failed to act.
Her opponent, Breean Beggs, pushed back. He argues the city has worked hard to determine and serve the immediate needs of people who are homeless. He says the city has spent millions and developed partnerships with social service providers. It’s just not enough.
“I really disagree that we have plenty of programs with plenty of capacity because I don’t think there’s anyone here that really has capacity for a lot more mental health or substance abuse programs. The challenge for a city is we’re not set up, tax wise, to pay that. That’s the state and the feds and the county runs that and we just don’t have enough resources yet," Beggs said.
Some of the resources, says mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward, should go to provide more of a police presence downtown. She says money should not go to buy a building to open another shelter.
“This last plan to locate one at Havana and Sprague was a disaster from the get-go," she said. "It is a prime example of planning that didn’t happen like it should have been and collaboration that didn’t happen like it should have been. We have to collaborate with our neighbors. There was the belief that the city was going to get help from the valley and the county on this, only they were brought to the table a little late and never got their questions answered.”
Woodward’s opponent, Ben Stuckart, says the most pressing issue is the city’s lack of housing, especially at the low end of the economic spectrum. He says the city can do more to encourage builders to create more housing for people at all income levels. He called for the city to create a housing trust fund.
“We should be putting another $5 million every year into affordable housing," he said. "That means that those houses are indexed so that people who are making 80% of the average median household income or 60% or 50% and those can have supportive services in it so that people can solve the mental health issues and solve the addiction issues. But we need massive numbers. The Low Income Housing Consortium estimates that we need 21,000 units in Spokane County by 2022. We need to be building more, we need to be doing more.”
Thursday’s candidate forum was sponsored by the Spokane Homeless Coalition and the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.