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January 2022 Newsbriefs


Legislative Conference will be held on Jan. 22

The 2022 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference (EWLC) will explore some of the issues before the 2022 Washington State Legislature. It will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22, on Zoom.  Displays by nonprofit groups begin at 8:00 a.m. before the conference and are open at 1:30 p.m. after the conference.

The keynote speaker, Fr. Pat Conroy SJ recently retired as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives and now serves as campus minister at Gonzaga University. He will speak on the theme, "Mobilizing for Our Future," looking at the political divisiveness of these times and offering words of hope based on his experiences in Congress and previous work teaching and serving with the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

An interfaith panel with representatives of four faiths will discuss how their faith communities mobilize people to act on issues, current priorities, blocks to mobilizing and where they need solidarity. Anastasia Wendlinder of the Gonzaga University Religious Studies Department will moderate the panel. Panelists are Melissa Opel of the Spokane Buddhist Temple, Jeremy Press Taylor of the Spokane Jewish community, Naghmana Sherazi of Muslims for Community Action and Support, and Benjamin Watson, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Two workshops on the climate crisis include one led by Jerry White, Spokane Riverkeeper, Larry Luton, 350 Spokane, and Rowena Pineda, Washington State Department of Health environmental advisor. The afternoon session on environmental legislation is led by Jessica Zimmerle of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light.

A workshop repeated on affordable housing and homelessness is led by Ben Stuckart of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, Terri Anderson of the Tenants Union of Washington and Julia Garcia of Jewels Helping Hands.

For a Food Security workshop, Eric Williams of Second Harvest and Jon Edmundson of Northwest Harvest lead two sessions.

Workshops on refugees and immigration, include Kevin Benson of World Relief discussing Afghani refugees in Spokane in the morning, and a session by Naghmana Sherazi on Afghani refugees and Muslim Community Action and Support.

In a morning session on human trafficking, Erin Williams of Lutheran Community Services Northwest will discuss her agency's work on trafficking, and in the afternoon, Margo Hill of the Spokane Tribe and Eastern Washington University will share on issues of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

To discuss "Securing our Democracy," Kristine Hoover of the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies will offer a morning presentation. On schools and racism, Nikki Lockwood of the Spokane School Board and Oscar Harris of the Family and Community Engagement Office for Spokane Public Schools will give the afternoon session on the board's equity resolution, community engagement to create it and other work.

Mid-day, there will be a "Legislative Briefing" on bills that are priorities for the faith communities in the 2022 Washington State Legislature. Presenters are Kristin Ang, the Faith Action Network's new policy engagement director; Mario Villanueva and Donna Christensen of the Washington State Catholic Conference and Jessica Zimmerle of Earth Ministry/WAIPL

The event is organized and sponsored this year by The Fig Tree, Catholic Charities Eastern Washington, Faith Action Network, Earth Ministry, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Sisters of Providence and the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.
With the event online, participants must register ahead for the link.

To register, call 535-1813, email, download a flier from or use the link at or visit

Shelters, homeless camps show the need

Maurice Smith, a documentary filmmaker on homelessness in Spokane through Rising River Media, reported that the City of Spokane's new warming shelter in the Convention Center opened Dec. 26 with the capacity to shelter 150 people. Within 24 hours the shelter had 220 guests, and the next night had 193 guests.

In addition, there were also about 100 homeless campers at the Freya and Thor camp in 75 tents offered by Julie Garcia of Jewels Helping Hands.

Maurice is pleased with the level of community support, such as one staff at a local business who brought food left from their Christmas party.

Recently a friend on the staff of a local shelter phoned to tell him  that on Thursday, Dec. 9, a City of Spokane Valley employee was checking the old White Elephant store on East Sprague, which is vacant and now owned by that city. The employee found a deceased homeless individual sitting propped against an outside wall, surrounded by his belongings.

"I find it sadly ironic that someone experiencing homelessness should pass away leaning against the wall of a building that could and should have been a shelter," said Maurice. "I see this as a metaphor for how regional homeless policymakers are failing our homeless community. What we lack in homeless policy is not buildings or locations, but the vision and the will to make decisions needed to save lives and address homelessness."

A Dec. 14 meeting between the Spokane Homeless Coalition and a senior member of the City of Spokane's homeless services department discussed how the city and coalition could better communicate and collaborate on homeless policy solutions.

Maurice told of driving to film Camp Hope 2.0, set up outside City Hall and noticing the bridges were clear of homeless campers who chose to join Camp Hope. Their move to a safe place didn't require a police sweep, he noted. As he left the Dec. 14 meeting, he received a call that Spokane Code Enforcement and the Spokane Police Department were at the camp, handing out 48-hour notices to vacate.

Maurice is concerned that the city administration believes there are sufficient shelter beds and will use police power to solve homelessness. He would prefer that the city scale up resources to match the scale of the problem.

He said the tragedy of the removal of Camp Hope shows the administration's "attitude toward peaceful protests against their failed homeless policy. They don't appear to want to solve homelessness. They just don't want to see it, downtown or anywhere else," he observed.

"We need something better," he said, challenging the city's emergency appropriation of $500,000 for law enforcement rather than for safe shelters.

For information, call 475-8797 or visit

Fig Tree plans online benefit events

The Fig Tree is developing its plan for virtual Benefit Events in 2022. They are scheduled at lunch time, noon to 12:45 p.m., Friday, March 4, and 8 to 8:45 a.m., Wednesday, March 9. For both events, there will be a gathering time prior to noon and 8 a.m. for people to meet and converse in small groups.

"We are currently recruiting people to host those small groups as a means to help us invite people," said Mary Stamp, editor.

The organizing team, which is also seeking more volunteers, is also inviting people who were featured in The Fig Tree articles in 2021 to be four-minute speakers on the theme, "Spreading Seeds of Hope." That theme was decided by the board after an orientation session reviewing the importance of The Fig Tree.

For 2022, The Fig Tree is partnering with Hamilton Studio to take videos of the speakers and prepare a promotional video, as well as to present the events online. After those events, the presentations will be available online for those unable to attend to view—if they wish with small groups or congregations—at a time of their choice.

During COVID, Hamilton Studio has found a new outlet for its skills and resources: to prepare benefits for nonprofits.

"Our goal will be to raise $42,000," said Mary. "We invite anyone interested in offering matching funds to let us know."

For information, call 535-1813 or email

Family Promise seeks to meet rising need

The ripple effects of COVID-19, lack of accessible childcare and the shortage of affordable housing have forced many families to face homelessness. It has been impossible to help all the families in need in the community, with the current space available, said Joe Ader, executive director of Family Promise.

"Imagine being out in the elements this winter instead of viewing them from a reassuring distance. Picture you and your family navigating the harsh weather without the security of a home," he invited. "You're sleeping in your car at night or maybe in a tent. When conditions become unbearable, you seek out a shelter as a respite from the ice and cold. Then, you find out that all the shelters are full."

That has been the experience of many families.

"We've seen a 1,200 percent increase in rental assistance requests compared to 2020," Joe said. "We've increased shelter capacity by 40 percent."

Still, in August 2021 alone, 156 family members, including 81 children, were turned away from Family Promise shelters because there wasn't any available shelter space.

Joe said that Family Promise can assist families by sheltering a parent and child for $49 a night or a family for $171 a night. He said the cost of ending homelessness for one family is $2,450.

For information, call 747-5787 or visit

FAN plans training and advocacy events

Faith Action Network (FAN) welcomes advocates of faith and conscience across Washington State to engage in the upcoming 2022 Legislative Session.

On Monday, Jan. 10, FAN will have two trainings to help people prepare for the 2022 State Legislative Session. It is also co-sponsoring the 2022 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference and FAN's Interfaith Advocacy Day focused on Olympia.

FAN is collaborating with Paths to Understanding (PTU) to host virtual Pre-Session Trainings at 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 6, and 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 9. Attendees will view advocacy videos produced by PTU, hear a legislative preview by FAN's new policy engagement director, Kristin Ang, and dive into FAN's 2022 legislative agenda.

The legislative agenda is at, and registration is at or

FAN's Advocacy Days begin with the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22. The event offers an interfaith panel, a discussion of bills, issue workshops and keynote speaker Fr. Pat Conroy, SJ. Registration is at

On Thursday, Feb. 10, FAN hosts Interfaith Advocacy Day online. Advocates across the state will hear from legislators, join workshops on issues from FAN's legislative agenda and gather in caucus groups by legislative district to plan for meetings with legislators.

The program begins at 9 a.m., and meetings with elected officials are planned for Thursday afternoon or Friday depending on availability. Registration at is needed by Tuesday, Feb. 4 to guarantee that appointments will be scheduled.

FAN's weekly E-News offers legislative alerts. Issue Fact Sheets offer updates, and Bill Tracker is a way to follow the progress of a bill.

For information, email or visit

Vanessa Behan now runs program at court

Vanessa Behan is taking over operating the Children's Waiting Room, a child friendly place for children ages birth to 12 to spend time while parents and care givers do court business.

The Children's Waiting Room (CWR) was established in 1997 to shelter children from the traumatic situations adults deal with when they are at the courthouse. The program aligns with Vanessa Behan's mission of keeping kids safe and supporting their caregivers.  

Caregivers who need to use the CWR from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday may call 960-0532 to reserve times before their court date. 

Spokane County financially supports the program, but it requires staff and resources to meet the need. Vanessa Behan seeks support for its efforts to keep children safe and strengthen families. 

For information, call 939-4138 or visit

Homeless Connect is Jan. 27

The 2022 Spokane Homeless Connect will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Spokane Convention Center, 220 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Organizers offer services from agencies, showers, housing, veterinarians, a  meal—everything a person experiencing homelessness needs. Courts will come to help people address legal issues and restore their IDs.

Instead of expecting homeless people to make and go to appointments all over town, they can receive services in four hours under one roof.

Organizers expect 100 service providers and are at a large space in the Convention Center to allow for social distancing and space between tables. They are taking other COVID precautions, so people feel comfortable coming.

"In 2021, COVID forced us to cancel, but in 2020, we had 1,100 people—70 percent of that year's Point-In-Time Count—in contrast to 500 in 2019. In 2022, we are planning for up to 2,000, but we do not know what to expect because of COVID," said Maurice Smith of the Spokane Homeless Coalition.

Organized by Spokane Homeless Coalition, Spokane Homeless Connect is an outgrowth of the Coalition that was first held 10 years ago.

The Coalition is still recruiting service providers to bring their resources, volunteers—individuals, groups and faith communities—and sponsors—to help underwrite the event that makes a difference for attendees who come in search of help.

For information, contact

World Relief receives 180 Afghan families

World Relief Spokane had received about 180 Afghans as of mid-December, with about 25 more arriving each week, reported executive director Mark Finney.

"The Spokane community has been amazingly supportive and we are so grateful for the hundreds of people who have stepped up to donate, volunteer, advocate and pray for our newest neighbors," Mark commented.

"We anticipate receiving about 350 total by Feb. 15 when the government has set the deadline to have all the evacuees off of military bases," he said.

Housing is still the biggest challenge and World Relief Spokane seeks any leads on available rentals.

For information, call 484-9829 or email

Groups host welcome party

Muslims for Community Action and Support (MCAS), Bridges Not Walls, Refugee Connections Spokane, Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, Dorothy Day Labor Forum, World Relief, Spokane Public Schools, Spokane Islamic Center and Veterans for Peace recently co-sponsored a "Welcome to America" party for newly arrived Afghan families at the Women's Center.

Families shared stories, and attendees offered encouragement for them and support to the Afghani community.

Mayor Nadine Woodward welcomed the Afghan families, and MCAS asked for setting up a Community Center for the Afghani community.

The Mayor has agreed to work with MCAS to create a space so these folks can begin their healing supported by the community, and can integrate into the larger Spokane community, said Naghmana Sherazi, co-chair of MCAS with Karen Stromgren Munawar.

"MCAS is working on a proposal that we will share in the new year," she said.

Organization representatives will speak with the Mayor at 2 p.m., Friday, Jan. 28, about providing a community center for Afghani refugees.

For information, call 823-274-6044 or email or visit



Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January 2022