The Unruly Mess of Poverty in Spokane

By Dylan Reyes, 1/23/17

Nights in Spokane are the hardest part for the homeless. Photo courtesy of Annie Quatier.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The poverty rate has experienced its largest drop since 1999, to 13.5 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau released data which showed that the poverty level is decreasing from 2015 to 2016.

Spokane, on the other hand, is telling a different story. The Hillyard neighborhood in Spokane is one of the poorest ZIP codes in the state of Washington, and advocacy groups are stepping in.

Reaching impoverished youth of Spokane

Hillyard and West Central are two of the poorest neighborhoods in the state of Washington. Youth for Christ (YFC) aims at reaching at-risk youth in these neighborhoods.

“Most of these kids come from poor homes. Most of the time, they don’t have fathers,” Jonathan Royal said. Royal works side-by side with his wife, Emily, as the Co-City Life Director in the West Central neighborhood. “City Life is basically how we do what we do. City Life is aimed at meeting the needs of students on a holistic level.” Jonathan Royal said.

“It’s a community-based ministry that serves students in a holistic way. Instead of just meeting physical needs, like providing food, YFC aims to meet needs holistically,” Emily Royal said. “Spiritual and moral literacy is important, but we also stress economic and civic literacy. We also teach basic health safety and education success.”

Youth for Christ has been in the Spokane area since 1955, serving generations of impoverished youth. The many leaders who work directly with youth are hopeful for the future of Spokane’s impoverished neighborhoods.

“The potential these kids have is a beautiful and resilient part of Spokane’s poverty,” Emily Royal said.

Tragedy sparks School District’s improvements

On May 2, 2015, Rogers High school in the Hillyard neighborhood experiences its fifth student suicide in the district during the 2015 school year. The neighborhood agreed that something needed to change.

“Poverty within Rogers is really prevalent.” Whitworth sophomore Mae Curtis said. Curtis works directly with youth at Rogers High School through Young Life. “You walk around and you feel this sad presence. There have been fights on campus. They are emotionally torn kids who come from emotionally unstable homes.”

In 2008, Rogers hired Brent Osborn as the assistant principal. Since his arrival the graduation rate has seen some improvement. In 2009, the graduation rate was at 50 percent, and in 2010, the graduation rate was at 60 percent. As of recently that number is now around 80 percent.

“There have been efforts made to improve Rogers High School,” Curtis said. “Dutch Bros. raised some money for Rogers’ college readiness program.”

In April 2016, Dutch Bros. raised over four thousand dollars for Rogers High School at their grand opening of their Hillyard location.

The community is making efforts to give back to the weakest neighborhoods in Spokane, both on a relational and charitable level.

Spokane is home to over 1,000 homeless individuals. Photo courtesy of Annie Quatier.

Charity’s developments reaching impoverished families

“We served more than 73,325 people last year alone.” Ann Marie Byrd said. Byrd serves as the Director of Development for Catholic Charities. “[Catholic Charities] provides programs to the 13 counties in Washington. Most of these counties are in or near the Spokane area. We give shelter, clothing, food, education and counseling programs.”

There are around 981 recorded homeless individuals in Spokane. This number was recorded in a one-night count, and the real number may be larger. In 2015, one-fifth of persons, living at or below the poverty line, were ages 18 and younger. Single mothers also made up a little more than half of families living at or below the poverty line.

“We serve all kinds of people,” Byrd said. “We serve families, seniors, and other individuals living in homelessness.”

Byrd has helped in the development of some units that are home to hundreds of impoverished families, seniors, and other homeless individuals. There are over 100 units specifically for homeless individuals, around 400 units for seniors, and around 39 units for families.

In 2015, there were around 433 families that avoided homelessness due to re-housing programs set up by Catholic Charities.

“Our newest program is called Rising Strong, and it’s designed for families dealing with substance abuse,” Byrd said. “Our hope is that we serve more of the impoverished families in Spokane area.”

Rising Strong will be a residential living area, and will also be a rehabilitation and counseling facility for families. The program will be open later this year.