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Homeless Connect is an opportunity for access to many resources in one day

Kari Chapman, Renee Norris and Maurice Smith are on team organizing event.

More than 50 agencies that serve people who are homeless will be in one place on one day as a convenience for more than 300 people who find it hard to access services because they focus each day on finding where they will sleep and eat.

Carrying their gear everywhere and lacking transportation add to the difficulty.

The Annual Spokane Homeless Connect is like one-stop shopping for medical and dental care, flu shots, foot care, haircuts, winter clothing, a food bank, a hot meal, a veterinarian, bike repair, new IDs, “warrant quashing,” housing and more.

It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Salvation Army Community Center at 223 E. Nora Ave.

Among the service providers who will be there are the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), Department of Licensing, Social Security, CHAS (Community Health Association of Spokane), SNAP, Catholic Charities Spokane, Union Gospel Mission, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Veterans Administration, Goodwill, Volunteers of America (VOA), the Salvation Army, the Community Court and many other nonprofit agencies, ministries and government entities.

The first two years—2011 and 2012—Homeless Connect drew about 150 people to meet with 20 service providers at Emmanuel Family Life Center.

It outgrew the space and may soon outgrow the Salvation Army Community Center where it has been since then, said Renee Norris, Rapid Rehousing case manager with Catholic Charities Spokane, a member of the organizing team.

“We do it to lower barriers to housing and jobs for people who are homeless, allowing them to do as much as possible in one day,” Renee said.

Every year watching Washington State University (WSU) nurses as they wash people’s feet, check their feet for diabetes and cut their toenails brings tears to her eyes.

“It reminds me of Christ washing people’s feet,” she said.  “To wash someone’s feet is to pay attention to them.  It’s a moment of human connection.”

Kari Chapman, a community health worker with United Health, has helped organize Homeless Connect since a group from the Homeless Coalition learned at a Stand-Down Idaho event for homeless veterans about a one-day Homeless Connect event in San Francisco.

Also on the planning team is Maurice Smith, media liaison with the Spokane Homeless Coalition, the parent organization for Homeless Connect.

The Homeless Coalition, which Bob Peeler of SNAP helped start 30 years ago with four others, is now a broad coalition of service providers.

 Maurice has 728 names on the mailing list.  They represent about 200 congregations, ministries, nonprofits and government agencies.

Three-fourths of them have attended meetings in the last 18 months to network. About 80 to 120 come each month from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on first Thursdays at the Gathering House at Garland and Post, a coffee shop and church.

Maurice has been in the Homeless Coalition since 2005, when he co-founded Feed Spokane.  He has also been involved with Truth Ministries, serving men who are homeless. 

When a business he started and ran several years went bankrupt, he and his wife lost their house and were homeless until a friend invited them to live at Living Springs Ranch near Deer Park, which they then managed for five years.

“It’s amazing to see the diverse group work together on the common goal of serving people who are homeless and marginalized in the community,” he said.

In a 2012 survey of 512 food banks, conducted with Second Harvest, he learned that for a third of them, transportation was a major barrier to accessing services. 

Organizers scheduled Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, the day of the annual HUD Point in Time Count that determines HUD Continuum of Care funding agencies need.

“Federal dollars are funneled into social services based on those figures,” said Kari.

Some funds for Homeless Connect come from sponsoring agencies, churches, businesses and individuals who donate $250 to put their name and logo on T-shirts that are sold for $15.

The event needs 30 to 40 volunteers to provide “customer service.” They welcome people, serve food, change garbage bags, help vendors set up and take down, and more.

Ali Norris, Renee’s daughter, has volunteered with Homeless Connect for three years.  She recently graduated from Eastern Washington University with a master’s degree in  public health. 

“I know what service providers assist with which needs, so I take people to tables with those services.  Someone who lost an ID goes first to the DSHS table for a $5 voucher to pay for a new ID, and then takes it to the Department of Licensing (DOL) table,” Ali said.

Maurice said lost IDs are common. IDs are stolen from backpacks.  People don’t have money or the time to sit at the DOL.

“One woman lost her ID so many times that she had me put it on file in my office,” Kari said.

They need IDs to apply for services, education, housing and jobs.

The last few years, Homeless Connect has provided the opportunity for people to “quash” warrants from municipal and district courts.  This year the Superior Court is joining to quash felon warrants as well.

“Quashing a warrant removes a barrier that keeps people out of housing and jobs,” said Kari.  “A warrant for arrest is issued if someone does not show in court for a misdemeanor.  At Homeless Connect, people can speak to a public defender or judge to set a new court date so they won’t be arrested.”

Kari said many avoid accessing services if they have an active warrant. 

Community Court, however, can reduce criminalization of people who are poor or homeless by reducing fines they can’t pay and removing a criminal history they shouldn’t have.

“People experiencing homelessness are often charged with ‘sit and lie’ loitering, trespassing or malicious mischief.  Those charges become bigger issues if they can’t afford to pay fines and don’t go to court,” said Kari.

Maurice—a 1982 graduate of Denver Baptist Seminary who in 2010 started a small Christian Publishing company, Rising River Media—said having a clean record is “one less hurdle.”

Community Court is not in the Courthouse but at the downtown public library from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mondays.  People show up there and report to the judge. On site each week there are about 20 of the 100 service providers that rotate being there.

Kari—who has a bachelor’s in business, landed in Spokane through the Army and worked from Mead schools into YFA, VOA, ESD 101Youth Build and other short-term, grant-dependent jobs—works with the population every day and sees how difficult it is for them.

Renee, who has a bachelor’s in social work and political science from Utah State University, came to Spokane in 1988.  She was a caseworker at Family Promise from 2008 to 2016.

Maurice sees much fear and anger among the homeless population.

“How angry would you be to be in a shelter where someone tells you when to shower, when to use the bathroom or when to go to the refrigerator for a snack?” he asked.  “People in shelters always have to ask permission to do everyday things. 

“So some are angry at God for not answering prayers, or at the shelter staff or police for telling them what to do,” said Maurice.  “There is unresolved anger because their lives are not theirs and they don’t know how to fix them.  The hole is easier to get into than out of.  Anger often leads to hopelessness.

“Eventually, they may let go and figure that there is no use trying,” he said.

Kari said anger becomes a barrier as the trauma escalates into mental health struggles like PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

On the streets, some homeless people approach others and demand they “drop pockets,” or pull out their pockets and give them all they have.

While there’s that tough side, people donate plasma to get cash, and then give it to the next guy for what he needs.

“I’ve seen incredible camaraderie and incredible viciousness,” Maurice said.

Kari said one man stood on the street and got $60 for a hotel room, where he could stay clean and sober.  He gave some of it away before he got there and had to go to a shelter.

Maurice has seen the gamut of emotions from compassion to violent hatred, because on a daily basis people do not know what they will experience.  They only have a few hours in a safe place in a shelter.

Homeless Connect is a safe place for a few hours in the day.

Why do Maurice, Kari and Renee organize Homeless Connect?

For Maurice, as a Christian, it’s what “serving the least” looks like.

Applying a lesson he learned from his friend, Mark Terrell at Cup of Cool Water, Maurice is now careful to speak of people who “happen to be experiencing homelessness,” rather than labeling them “homeless people.”

Kari said that if everyone helped organize or volunteered for such a day, the world would be a better place.

“It’s what human beings should do for each other,” said Renee.

For information, call 342-8322 or email

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