Last fall, as the weather began to get cold, a handful of young people arrived at our front porch looking for a place to sleep. While uninvited, rather than shooing them away under the freeway we chose to respond with compassion. Most of the folks on our porch (self-titled the “Dirty Queens and Kings”), are veterans of the foster care system who have experienced some of the most horrific trauma we could imagine. As we got to know them, we learned why sleeping on a porch was better to them than accessing services within a system not quite designed to serve their complex needs. I am very proud of our compassionate team, that helped in their spare time most of those months and worked to connect our front porch guests with services to stabilize their lives. We are pleased that as of last month, all of The Dirty Queens and Kings have started an application for housing, and two have already received their keys.
While this may feel like a happy ending, it isn’t. Those young people were “lucky” they ended up on our front porch. There are over 3000 homeless kids attending school in Spokane, a 60% increase in the last 7 years according to a EWU study funded by Priority Spokane. At EHF, we usually tackle issues where our investment sees real promise for moving the needle in a sustainable, systemic way. And always through collaboration. Yet these were homeless people who literally landed on our doorstep, not exactly systems. And this is perhaps the first time one of our shared values, compassion, was at odds with other valid concerns from other community stakeholders.
There are a few key questions we need to ask ourselves:
-Where do we go from here on teen homelessness?
-Is there opportunity to collaborate or play a value added role in a sustainable systemic improvement in the number of homeless teens and young adults?
-What does it mean to champion “health for all?” Or health equity for all?
EHF is committed to tackling these tough questions in the coming months. We know that without a strong intent to be collaborative, compassionate and fiercely dedicated to eliminating health inequities, we won’t make progress.
-Antony Chiang, EHF President