“I have decided not to be knocked down”: Former homeless woman perseveres with the help of shelters

As Kebby Ali walks through downtown Spokane, she understands the struggle of the women she sees on the street.

Not so long ago she shared her plight as a newcomer to the city, unsure of where to sleep at night.

“I can see the sadness, the loneliness and the despair in their eyes. Their self-esteem is so low that they think this is all they can have. The world has crushed them, ”said Ali. “I made a decision not to get knocked down.”

Ali would not be where she is today – with an apartment and part-time job – if it weren’t for the inviting emergency shelter offered by Hope House, the only homeless shelter in Spokane that only cares for adult women with low entry requirements.

It’s a personal story that Ali hopes will inspire others in trouble, but also shows the value of accommodations like the Hope House.

Just like Ali showed up on his doorstep more than three years ago, Hope House is often at full capacity and forced to turn down women every night, as are other low-barrier homeless shelters in Spokane City.

Hope House was full for 18 of the 28 nights in November, according to a citywide housing count. (It did not report its occupancy for two nights this month.)

It also operates on an uncertain financial basis, warning city officials last month that it will have to close in early 2022 without support from local governments.

Ali’s arrival

A few years ago, in Spokane, Ali struggled to find a safe place to rest her head.

Ali is from Michigan and described her temporary childhood as “growing up in trauma,” with periods of homelessness before moving into foster care as a 13-year-old. As an adult, she got into a cycle of abusive relationships with men, including her ex-husband.

Fed up with her treatment, hoping to find solace in the mountains, she fled in 2018. She settled on Denver, where she stayed in a safe house for three months.

In Denver, she was referred to the YWCA in Spokane, where she was placed on a rapid relocation program to help her find permanent housing before she even got there. But while she waited for this shelter, there was nowhere to stay.

Ali tried Hope House, but no beds were available.

She tried the Union Gospel Mission, but was told she had to take Bible lessons – a condition that Ali, who was then a practicing Muslim, could not meet.

Ali stayed at the House of Charity, but her belongings, including her insulin and syringes, were stolen and did not feel safe there. At the time, the shelter was co-ed. After Ali had just left an abusive relationship behind, he was scared of men.

Ali was on the street and about to give up.

One night she was standing on Monroe Street Bridge contemplating suicide. She called a suicide line and decided to live.

After being homeless in Spokane for about a month and trying for the fourth night in a row, she finally landed a bed at Hope House. There was a locker to keep her belongings safe and a hot shower was waiting for her every night when she came back.

“I had the feeling that you have a shower here every day, it increases the self-esteem of women,” said Ali.

Ali credited a number of local organizations for helping her, including Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP) through their rapid relocation program, YWCA, Hope House staff, and Women’s Hearth.

There were some hurdles – Ali was unable to include her last address on her apartment application as it could give her estranged husband a clue of her whereabouts – but after about a month she had a new apartment.

Ali’s stay at Hope House was relatively short, but she doesn’t know where she would be without him.

“Many homeless women have been molested. They have been sexually, physically, emotionally and spiritually abused, “said Ali. “They come to this place of desperation where they don’t care and they think this is all they have and what they will ever have. And they don’t know how to get out of that position. There are resources, but they don’t feel safe about some of the resources. “

The people who run Hope House are well aware of the feeling Ali describes.

Everyone deserves protection, but “it’s even more important that women and young people have a safe place because women are sexually abused on the streets,” said Fawn Schott, CEO of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, the nonprofit who operate Hope House.

Schott also pointed out the importance of not just providing people with a bed to sleep in, but also helping them apply for a job and find permanent housing. If people can’t move on, the shelters will keep filling up.

“You have to have this fully funded case management model,” said Schott.

The system

City guides highlight the improvements made to the city’s homeless shelters network over the past two years – Mayor Nadine Woodward can now point to a number of shelters she has participated in.

“As a community, we probably need to get to the point where we can celebrate progress and realize that it is unlikely to be perfect,” said city spokesman Brian Coddington.

There are now beds specially reserved for young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 so they don’t have to mingle with an older, often chronically homeless, population.

There are new beds in women’s shelters; Since Ali’s stay, Hope House has moved to a new building on Third Avenue and has doubled its capacity.

The city bought a building on Cannon Street in 2019 to serve as a thermal center and year-round homeless services.

The Salvation Army has been tasked with running a regionally funded bridge housing program called the Way Out Center, a temporary shelter that aims to fill the final void before a homeless person finds permanent shelter.

Family Promise has opened a new building on Mission Avenue, and the city and county have also pledged to fund expanded crosswalk accommodation for teenagers.

Breean Beggs, President of Spokane City Council, is proud of this progress but believes there is more to be done.

“We don’t have enough for families and we don’t have enough for single women … I say we’re better, but we’re still not ready for the needs and by then people are going to be really frustrated,” “Beggs said.

Woodward has recognized the need for more accessible housing and proposed to spend $ 4.6 million in 2022 to build a semi-permanent structure to house people temporarily.

This winter, the city will also run a temporary accommodation program that will include the use of hotel rooms to expand accommodation capacity over the winter.

But homeless attorneys warn that it is not enough, and people who need shelter are turned away every day.

“I’ve heard the city say ‘yes, we’re working on it’ for a long time, which means nothing happens,” said Barry Barfield, administrator of the Spokane Homeless Coalition.

Beggs believes inactivity is the most expensive option for the community as homelessness weighs on hospital emergency rooms, leading to crime and myriad other consequences.

The problem, Beggs said, is that homelessness “just looks so insurmountable that people throw their hands up”.

Beggs wants the city to provide a clear estimate of the number of homeless people in Spokane. That number, he said, could be multiplied by the average cost to provide a person with one night’s lodging. The result would be the cost of getting everyone off the street and getting them into shelter.

The city could reach out to medical foundations, business groups, regional governments, and others to raise funds for this effort, Beggs said.

“The government’s job is to offer choices and say, ‘That’s the problem, it’s going to cost this much and you want to pay more, be it for donations or taxes,'” Beggs said. But right now, he said, “we don’t even offer a choice.”

Woodward agrees that the city cannot fight homelessness unaided and urged the faith and business communities to get involved.

“The city administration cannot do this alone. As mayor, I can’t do this alone, ”said Woodward.

Charities and homeless advocates warn that if someone is turned away from their shelter, the consequences can be devastating.

It almost cost Ali her life.

But now she’s still in the same apartment, receiving extra security income, and working part-time at Walgreens. She celebrated her 45th birthday on Friday.

And when she read that Hope House might be closed, she called the shelter to see what she could do to help.

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