Our April meeting saw Phil Altmeyer, a 36-year veteran of Union Gospel Mission, deliver a presentation on homelessness in Spokane. Altmeyer outlined the mission's core values which include faith, hope, and love, and explained how these principles underpin UGM's approach to addressing homelessness. He also indicated that to address homelessness, people need to understand mental illness and addiction. Both are huge factors in creating and maintaining the problem of homelessness.
In the distant past, hobos worked for handouts (bums did not) and many people were addicted to alcohol. Ever since the filming of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 (filmed in Idaho), many mentally ill individuals were released from institutions. Unfortunately, these people were not able to sustain a job or healthy lifestyle and became homeless. In more recent times, Altmeyer believes drugs like fentanyl complicated the situation, creating almost immediate addiction, and have increased the numbers of homeless as well.
Altmeyer and UGM stress that the homeless need a sense of ownership and responsibility. He feels the Spokane City Council has enabled the homelessness by reinforcing bad behaviors and an atmosphere of lawlessness. When people check into UGM facilities, they are given chores and responsibilities to assist them in building self-respect and a sense of community. They are provided temporary shelter and support and are rewarded with more permanent housing. Services and support without accountability is not an acceptable solution.
Altmeyer highlighted the various programs and services offered by UGM which include temporary shelter and housing, meals and nutrition, addiction recovery, and education and job training. He mentioned some success stories and gave hope that the homeless cycle can be broken.