Guest Commentary: Businesses vs homeless is unproductive false narrative

As the visible population of people living on the streets in Spokane has increased, a false and damaging narrative has gained momentum. That narrative posits that businesspeople don’t care about the suffering of the unhoused and only want to sweep them out of sight so they can get back to the business of making money.

This villain-versus-victim narrative has proven counterproductive on many levels. Businesspeople who invest in our economy and employ our residents are not villains; and people experiencing homelessness are not helpless victims to be rescued. They are people with their own contributions to make.

Most importantly, that false narrative pits two groups against each other that should and could be working together. For the city of Spokane to make headway in resolving the issue of homelessness, there needs to be less finger-pointing, less attacking, and more listening, more coming together of all stakeholders with a vested interest in the welfare of our city, including our most vulnerable, unhoused citizens.

Sheldon Jackson, founder and CEO of Selkirk Development LLC and partner at Revamp Panels LLC, is part of a loosely organized group of businesspeople with a vision to make Spokane the cleanest and safest city in the U.S. They have studied the successes and failures of other cities’ efforts to address homelessness, looked at the science, and are willing to put private money into much-needed mental health and addiction-recovery services as well as affordable housing.

“We love Spokane,” Jackson says. “Our businesses don’t have to be in Spokane. Our businesses could be somewhere else, but we love Spokane. We’re not willing to give up on our city.”

Jackson emphasizes that most businesspeople are problem solvers. “It’s what we do every day. Look, the only thing you’re going to get with businesspeople is that we’re logical. You have to be logical to run a business. Some people think that’s cold. But solutions are solutions. We’ve got to raise up the whole society.”

Jackson envisions a solution-oriented collaboration where the unhoused, service providers, and businesspeople work together, “but we’ve got to keep politics out of it,” he says. “What is being done right now is not solving the problem. We throw money at it, and it gets worse. That’s not smart.”

Admittedly, Jackson doesn’t want people camping downtown. True, it’s not good for business, but more importantly, it’s not good for the people. They are more vulnerable to the elements and to the criminals who prey on them. Most service providers would agree: the streets are deadly. The goal is to get people into shelter.

“I think at the end of the day what we can all agree on is that we want a safe and clean city. … We’re all on the same sidewalk, but the sidewalk has to be safe for somebody to be there. It has to be safe, and it has to be clean for all of us.”

Homelessness is one of the biggest challenges currently facing Spokane. To move forward, we need all voices at the table, and Spokane’s business community has a valuable contribution to make.

Barbara Comito is the director of marketing and communications at Union Gospel Mission Association of Spokane.

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Article Source: Spokane Journal