SPOKANE — Four men who have never held elected office are vying for outgoing Spokane Valley City Councilman Sam Wood’s seat, and they all say homelessness is one of the most important issues facing the region.
Three of the men running for Spokane Valley Council position 6 — Walmart Assistant Manager Shaun Stanfield, retired housing and community development specialist Pat Stretch and chiropractor Bo Tucker — are first-time candidates. Retired teacher Tim Hattenburg has run unsuccessfully for the state Legislature twice.
Tucker said Spokane Valley needs apartments and they need to go in places where they are appropriate and there is infrastructure. He said when he was in college in California, his apartments were the only option he and his family could afford, and he believes that option needs to be available in Spokane Valley.
Affordable housing and the aging population in Spokane Valley are Stanfield’s two biggest concerns. He said many seniors will soon need to downsize from their larger home as they retire and are no longer able to drive. He said apartments for seniors, or other affordable housing projects, will soon be needed across the Valley, but those projects should be built in areas that have enough infrastructure to handle them.
He said more affordable housing could also be a long-term way to reduce homelessness in Spokane Valley.
Stanfield said he often deals with people who are homeless at his job at Walmart, with people living in vehicles in the parking lot. He said people often have negative stereotypes about homeless people that aren’t necessarily true, such as they are not willing to work or only take handouts. He said his mother, and many others who find themselves homeless would never have chosen that for themselves.
He also disagreed with the claim that the more resources are available, the more the homeless population will grow.
“From a humanitarian standpoint, we owe it to the people who are here, whether they’re homeless or not, to take care of them,” Stanfield said. “As an elected member of city council, they are my constituents.”
Tucker said he’s volunteered through his church to help the homeless. He argued that some aren’t able to help themselves because they may have medical and mental health issues but that many will take services and not improve their lives.
Tucker said Spokane Valley should study homelessness in its own community and continue to work with Spokane County and the City of Spokane to provide services instead of starting new projects in Spokane Valley.
He said the city needs to spend more time analyzing homelessness to find what works in the long term before “throwing money” at the problem. He said once he sees research, he might consider other options.
Stretch said homelessness in Spokane Valley isn’t the same as homelessness in the City of Spokane and that the government cannot approach it in the same way. He said he disagrees with Spokane’s housing-first policy, arguing that if people have a drug problem or a mental illness, they will quickly sour the relationships they have with the few landlords who are willing to rent to them.
He said the services for the homeless are in the city of Spokane and that’s where they should stay.
Stretch also said the city of Spokane Valley should do what it can to stop camping on public land because that makes many people who want to use the parks feel unsafe.
“If there’s a homeless person and a taxpaying citizen using our parks and only one gets to use it, it should be the taxpaying citizen.” he said. “If my sister doesn’t feel safe, she can’t use it.”
Hattenburg said Spokane Valley should consider having its own shelter because many people on the edges of Spokane Valley who are homeless might have a hard time accessing services in the City of Spokane. He said Spokane Valley should sit down and work collaboratively with the City of Spokane.
“You can’t just say the closest city is OK,” he said. “At some point, we need to have a shelter.”
Hattenburg said churches can’t be the only institutions offering help to the homeless in Spokane Valley and that the city needs to do what it can to ensure there’s a place for people to go.