Caring as Communities

Solutions for Homlessness

January 11, 2021 Community Based Coordination Solutions Season 2 Episode 1
Caring as Communities
Solutions for Homlessness
Show Notes Transcript

Homelessness remains a key issue for half a million people in the US each year, with the prolonged pandemic and subsequent unemployment and evictions suggesting that number could climb.

Rob McCann,
CEO of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington and Damián Mazzotta, Founder and Chairman of The Shower of Hope and Principle of The Long Term Partners share innovative programs Spokane and greater LA are using to address homelessness—and better care for our communities in need.


Rob McCann,
CEO of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington. 

Rob joined Catholic Charities in 2000 where he has worked in a number of positions and where he works now as CEO and President. He has spent his career with an emphasis on service, working 4 years with the Catholic Relief Services, 2 years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Oregon and Mexico, and one year in East LA as a Youth Advocate in Gang Alternative Programming. Rob is currently a Board Member and past Chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  National Advisory Board. 

He also serves on various community boards, including Providence Health Care, Sacred Heart Medical Center Foundation, Jesuit Volunteers Corps Northwest, Nazareth Guild, and Spokane County United Way. He has his undergraduate in Political Science and American Studies from Fairfield University, his Masters degree in Organizational Studies, and his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University.

Damián Mazzotta, Founder and Chairman of The Shower of Hope and Principle of The Long Term Partners. 

Damián came to the United States 8 years ago to run La Opinión, the largest Hispanic News Media Outlet in the Country. Since 2015, he has served as a board member and fundraiser for multiple education non-profit organizations that support the most vulnerable kids and families of Los Angeles. In 2017, he co-founded End Homelessness California, including The Shower of Hope Program, bringing his 20 years of business development and administration experience to the non-profit sector. Today, the program is the largest mobile hygiene and community engagement operation in a US County ever, serving 27 locations per week. The non-profit also operates Safe Parking Lot Programs providing case management, restrooms, and security to individuals and families who sleep in their cars. In August, and through an unprecedented partnership with Los Angeles Community College District, End Homelessness California also started a transitional housing program for homeless and at-risk youth to provide a holistic approach to support students.  

In the last decade, Damián has been recognized and featured among the top 500 most influential people in Los Angeles by LA Business Journal and received Social Justice and Social Entrepreneurship awards by Los Angeles City and County—as well as local community organizations like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. 

Enrique Enguidanos

Welcome everyone to this month's edition of carriers communities; I'm Dr. Enrique Enguidanos, CEO for Community Based Coordination Solutions and today will be part two of our two part series on homelessness today. 

Specifically, we are going to be talking about housing solutions for the homeless. And we have two wonderful speakers. Rob McCann who is CEO and president of Catholic Charities Eastern Washington and Damian Mazzota, founder and chairman of the Shower of Hope and Long Term Partners in Los Angeles. Let me add a little more introduction to each of you and ask that perhaps you elaborate on your current work before we go into questions.

Rob, as I mentioned, you're CEO and president of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, you've been with them for over 20 years, you've also been a board member and past chair of the US conference on Catholic Bishops National Advisory Board. You have a PhD in leadership from Gonzaga University, and, you know, your program has been so successful and you've helped other communities around the country implement the successful work from Spokane, perhaps just give us a little insight into how the program started. And what it’s built into today.

Rob McCann

Sure. Happy to maybe start I'll start by just a little bit about Catholic Charities in general. We cover here everything from the Oregon border and to the Canadian border on the east side of Washington State. So we're nestled up against the Idaho border, and we cover about 13 counties of Eastern Washington about 330 staff 6000 volunteers, 50 some odd locations in those 13 counties, about 1400 units of housing that we own and manage all over those those counties of Eastern Washington—a lot in downtown Spokane, but also lots of just regular Catholic Charities programs that you might be familiar with: senior services, childcare, mental health, substance abuse, emergency assistance utility assistance, food for all food security program, immigration legal services, lots of different cafeterias programs—all of which come into play for our five shelters for the homeless and some of the respite beds. I mention them all in there because we use those other Catholic charity services and embed them in our homeless housing projects in our homeless shelters in our homeless respite program so it all kinds of flows together from that larger Catholic Charities organization towards our battle to serve the homeless. 

For us, obviously one of the biggest programs that we're known for here in the state of Washington is homelessness; part of that is because we have a very big homeless portfolio. Part of that quite frankly is just the controversial nature of homelessness in our community in our state in our country, any organization like us that does 15 different things. If homelessness is one of them, you're going to end up on the front page of the paper probably more often than you want to be and and that's that's a hard reality is we become a lightning rod for what's become a very politicized issue, unfortunately, in the last couple years, but we're okay with that. If we're a lightning rod we'll figure out a way to turn that into electricity to power that power the plan. That's the way I look at it but we really have become a homeless centerpiece. That's good and bad. It's good in that it helps us attract a lot of philanthropy, a lot of grants and contracts. It's bad in that the reality is that anytime any homeless person does anything wrong anywhere in eastern Washington, it's Rob McCann's fault, it's Catholic Charities fall, and they come they come gunning for you and then that's okay too. As the late John Lewis would say: that's good trouble. 

Our homeless stuff really started about 15 years ago with some homeless shelters, mostly for homeless men. And back then it was the classic homeless person. The 50 plus year old chronic inebriated riding the rails, who just needed a bed and a meal. And so we started the house of charity homeless shelter, almost 55, or so years ago. That's obviously evolved now that particular demographic of the homeless person is gone, our homeless population now are mostly in their 20s. And they're mostly individuals that are homeless because of a series of intergenerational poverty issues, mostly focused on mental health and substance abuse that's been undertreated or untreated throughout their lifetime. We've seen an expansion of homelessness as much as the entire country. We've seen that here in Spokane, and probably about 15, years ago, in a conversation with an ER doc it's at Providence Sacred Heart Hospital, we got into a conversation over a beer about how he sees the same homeless people in his hospital again and again and again. And what can we do about that? You know these “frequent fliers,” these super utilizers, and that's when we decided “hey let's just try something and designate a couple of our beds in our shelter as respite beds, so that anytime a homeless person is in the hospital they can be discharged directly to our shelter.” 

You know the average homeless person stays in the hospital here in Spokane about 11.2 nights; you and I on this zoom call the average citizen stays in the hospital about 2.1 nights. Those other nine nights typically are because if it was you or I, they'd send us home to sit on the bed, sit on your couch eat chicken soup and recover and take your meds, but a homeless person, they can't do that if they send them back out to the street, even though they're ready to be discharged. They could lose their prescriptions, get their meds stolen, or might not take them. The wound reopens, the infection comes back, and they end up right back in the hospital. So what does the hospital do? They keep them in there, those extra night nights. 

Well the annualized cost per night in the state of Washington in the hospital is about $3,200. So when you start doing that for an extra nine nights, for every homeless person, and you've got anywhere from 150 to 200 homeless super utilizers in the hospital system, you can see how quickly that adds up. You know, it's $3,200 a night to be in the hospital, it's $147 a night to be in jail. It's about $1,500 a night to be in the Eastern State Hospital, which is a mental health facility, or it's about $7.28 a night to be at the house of charity, that's our cost per unit. 

So in terms of where we want to spend our money as taxpayers, the choice is obvious. You know, to try and get people out of hospital scenarios and into shelter beds so we started that respite program, and with just a couple beds (I think four beds) the first year, and it was so successful I think now we're up to 25 beds, but it wasn't just about respite we have to have a place at least folks to go. So we've also opened several other new shelters, we've built about 10 different homeless housing complexes in the last eight years, they averaged about 50 units each there for chronic street homeless super utilizers. I think it's 524 units total in eight years, each one of those projects cost about 12 million bucks to build. We get every penny from the IRS, which I love. We don't have to raise a single dollar from a single donor. It's all paid for by the IRS and tax credits, and we've built 10 of these. And every time we open one, you can see a measurable decrease in the homeless count in eastern Washington every time we open a new building. 

We take 50 people off the streets or out of shelters and put them into forever homes where their monthly rent is zero. Thanks to section eight housing vouchers. And so you that rescue program that started led to us asking the question, “how do we get people out of the shelter” and that led to building housing, and then we built quite a few of these projects and all of the projects are the same. 

They have mental health and substance abuse counselors on site in the building, social workers, caseworkers, social service coordinators in the building. Security in the building, food nutrition life skills case managers and counselors in the building, so that when homeless folks get inside one of these apartment complexes, it's supportive housing with services on site, with the goal of 93% of the time, you are still there. Two years later, that's the definition of successful housing for the homeless is two years of stable housing. 

Most of our clients stay there a lot longer than two years. And, you know, the reality is, as I said homelessness is a controversial issue, what the community here often talks about is not the 93% that are successful, they talk about the 7% that are not successful. Why? Because when our 7% are not successful when they fail, they tend to fail kind of spectacularly, it usually involves the police and the fire department and the media and newspapers stories, and so that becomes the narrative—the 7% who don't make it as opposed to the 93% who do but all of this was really started because of that integration of healthcare and homelessness,


Well and that's, you know, I just, it's so exciting I mean I've been to Spokane, I tell you, I was in Spokane, 10 or 15, years ago, would see homeless on the street and it's not that they've disappeared—they're still there—but it's such a different situation and I want to go back to you later on in the podcast I want to ask you some specifics about that and what's going on in other communities. 

Now, Damian, your programs. You're in a little different situation a little earlier in the process but some wonderful work—you are founder and chairman, as I mentioned, the Shower of Hope and principle of the Long Term Partners. You know, you came here from Argentina, eight years ago to run LA Opinion, the largest Hispanic news media outlet in the country, you're a business guy, a fund raiser, you've been involved with multiple educational projects, nonprofits, but you took a passion for issues occurring in Los Angeles—no small feat. And back in, 2017, you co-founded for homelessness California the Shower of Hope, and that evolved into a safe parking lot program in LA County and in August of this year, really an amazing partnership you helped bring together between End Homelessness California and the LA, Los Angeles Community College District to provide transitional housing to homeless and at risk, college students.

Tell us a little bit more about your path: what's going on, starting within homelessness California, and how things have evolved into what's there today.

Damian Mazzatto:

Well thank you so much Enrique and I just want to start by saying that how you know it's a very blessed I feel to be here, you know, having a conversation with you and with Rob. Rob, I really admire what you have been doing. I think your organization is amazing and I hope you know these conversations, help to learn more, and to come with their solutions and also to come with you know some, some initiatives together because at some point. 

My passion is in education and development. People suffering, you know it's like this horrible crisis, which is homelessness. I joined money and my mission which was a grassroots group, founded by multideck Aranete, these are my partner in and homeless California and the co-founder was getting 20 people per night you know every day from Monday through Friday to serve 200 meals in Skid Row. And I don't know if you're familiar with Skid Row but basically there are around 5000 people living in Los Angeles in very poor conditions. A lot of shelters over there but really, really, the services are not enough. And, and it's a really, really tough situation, Los Angeles downtown. It's basically you know it's like up close a few blocks from Skid Row, and I had the privilege to come to the US as a corporate executive business executive; it over 20 years you know in the corporate world. And I went to downtown. And I had the situation where basically you walk outside after eating the most amazing meals in incredible restaurants, but at the same time you would go outside and you would see you know like a person sleeping in the street. That's the worst that can happen because the sense of belonging to a community is the most important thing and I was raised in a Catholic Church. Almost 13 years going to a Catholic school, so I give my values always with me although I went into the private sector, but at the same time, I started volunteering in Skid Row with Meals organization. During the day, having a normal job; at night doing that. Five nights a week. So, basically with my background with some of the connections and partnerships that I had, I proposed to him to start ,you know, a formal organization where we basically were doing the analysis, we got to know that there were more watchtowers happening in Los Angeles, and more in Northern California. And we got to learn more about it. 

At that time, Mel got 20,000 followers in Facebook, and were all volunteers in Los Angeles. So we fundraise for the first trailer. But then in, in 2017, and we started operating in one location per week. As of today, we are operating in 27 locations. Every week we operate nine trailers in our, you know take attendance is going to be coming soon. In Q1, we have expanded operations to other counties, and we are in conversations. Also you know take all the time to see what else we can do in terms of a mobile shower program because as you you know know with COVID 19 has, you know, become something that should have been very important always in part of our education but unfortunately, you know, it's like, we had to learn the hard way. 

Well, that was the time where, you know, our services were, you know, doubling, and we're able to respond and to grow. Last year, you know through, through also a local partnership with, with the city district. We were able to, to put together two safe parking programs here in Los Angeles with around 6000. 

People who live in their vehicles, and well this program, basically, is trying to connect these people to case management, some security and restrooms. And while the program has been successful because basically we are able to place people in hotels, and then connect with vouchers and services and that's something that really makes a difference. Well, last year we learned that community college students were food insecure. More than one in every two community college students are food insecure; they live with one meal per day, which is incredible. I am amazed about this information but that's a situation here at least in Los Angeles and California. And we were connected by a university, who was interested in doing a safe parking program, but obviously because we're operating the safe parking program we knew the costs, and we knew how difficult, and tough it is to sleep in a car, and we will think about like the possibility of, you know, a kid doing well at school was sleeping in a car and not knowing where, you know, to go. 

Well, you know it's like making cost analysis and everything, we, we came up with a conclusion that it was much better to try to put together a program it was going to take a little longer and then eventually you know how it is the proof of concept is important, but like a few months ago we were able to launch our first. You know house, and the program obviously offers wraparound services because most of these kids need a lot of you know mental health support as well as the food, but at the same time as we were talking about like how people who suffer homelessness are highly traumatized you know it's like, you can imagine this, the situation of these kids. The good news is that like when you're talking out students, you're talking about people who are trying, you know like to move forward in their life. And at some point, that that magic that happens is that when they are connected with some sort of support. I mean the responses that we are seeing are really amazing. So, that is our, you know, humble experience so far. And again, thank you so much for having me today, and on behalf of the other co founder man, know that it's like volunteers and employees that make a difference; thank you for what you're doing because it's really important


Damian. Thank you so much, and I just love how both of you have not only been thinking about housing but other components, education, mental health, I'm a data that man you and I taught them and native of Los Angeles. People don't understand the Dorothy Chandler Chandler pavilion where we watch you know the Academy Awards and whatnot. That's four or five blocks from Skid Row, where we have people living on the street. My brother was a teacher for LA City School, and I would go with him and we would knock on car doors in the morning to wake up the kids that would be coming to his classroom. First, second, third grade kids it’s a travesty that in our country, we are seeing this and I commend you both for, for helping to, to address this. 

I'd like to dive into a couple of statistics and that might lead us into some conversations from last month, we're talking with Bobby watts, and Jim O'Connell we touched on the fact that we have over half a million homeless. Every night, across the US and over 54,000 families living in homelessness every night. What we didn't touch on is, we're estimated to be over 7 million units, short of our current needs in housing. Rob you've been doing this for so long and you've been so successful with your work. I'm wondering if you can speak a little, at the end, other communities across the country have looked to you for modeling similar programs. Can you speak to us a little bit about where similar programs, as you've done in Spokane have launched and particularly what are some of the hurdles that communities might encounter in setting up similar programs.


Yeah, we've. I think we've now had 21 different Catholic Charities organizations from around the US there's about 160 Catholic Charities we've had 21 of them, who've now flown into Spokane and spent a day or two here touring what we're doing, taking notes we give them copies of all of our applications and staffing patterns and budgets I mean it's open source, we share that share the recipe. It's not a secret. And I think there's probably at this point. After 21 visits from different Catholic Charities, I think there's probably six or seven other catholic charities that are doing respite now that have opened shelters and respite that have started to either build or have already opened their first homeless permanent supportive housing project. So it is starting to kind of drip around the country. You know that it's becoming a model that is replicable—every single city in America has access to tax credits, every single city in America has access to section eight project based vouchers. And those are the two elements you need to build this housing, and every city in America has a hospital system, and you need that to run your respite program.

And it's very much incentivizing for the hospitals to do it, because it's much cheaper for them to have a super utilizer in my respite than in one of their hospital beds and they know that. And so they're very very generous in supporting the operations of the respite program so it has started to be replicated a little bit, but as you mentioned, there's lots of obstacles, you know, first of all, the idea of opening a shelter in the current environment of our country is virtually impossible to do any community in America, if you go in front of the city council and say “what's the best place that we could build a shelter because we got the money, we've got the ability, we're ready to go, where should we build this?”, the answer you're going to get in most communities in America is that the best place to build a homeless shelter or homeless housing is somewhere else. 

Nimbyism is rampant. That's a reality. Nobody wants to shelter anywhere near business or commerce, you know, we wrestled with that and Spokane with some people who say “gosh Rob You're ruining Spokane, all this Homeless Services you're doing—are you attracting more homeless people, are you enabling homeless people that aren't clean or sober, or haven't got on their mental health meds,” you know, and our model is to serve anybody in any condition. We're a low barrier. We don't attract homeless people. We use data to prove that 80 something 80 some odd percent of our homeless clients were born and raised within 70 miles of downtown Spokane. The food is not so good at the house of charity, that they're coming from Alabama, and Texas and Florida to move to Spokane, where right now it's 20 degrees outside. It's just not the reality, but it's an effective narrative for people that would oppose services to the homeless, and you'd say yourself “well who in the world would oppose helping the homeless. I mean we teach our kids that in the first grade. If someone needs something you help him out.” But the reality is that in the last four or five years—really, it has nothing to do with Trump; I don't want to blame Trump, that's too easy; it's before that—it started with the Great Recession, where there became a polarization and a political divisiveness about homelessness there became a right and a wrong way to serve the homeless, a progressive and a conservative way to serve the homeless. That's new. That's from the recession, you know, so many people lost their homes and their jobs during the recession so many of our middle class two owners who then became our clients who fell into struggle, and as a result of that recession, a lot of those folks came out of that recession thinking “God, when I was really down on my luck nobody helped me, but yet here I see these homeless people and they're maybe they aren't they've got a bottle and they're drinking on the street, and they get apartments they get shelters they get showers and beds,” and those folks got angry, and they had a lot of resentment towards that in 2009 and 2010, and that was the beginning of some of these challenges to homeless services shelters and housing, was that mindset that maybe some people don't deserve this, “they haven't earned it.” “They're not working quite hard enough.” We disagree with that completely. At Catholic Charities every human being is made in the image and likeness of God period. And the great thing about Catholic Charities, it doesn't matter to us if your God is Christ or Yahweh, or Buddha, or Allah—doesn't matter, you're still a human being with debt with inherent dignity and value and that's where we operate from, but there's a lot of challenges that you wouldn't think there should be or could be, but that challenge has grown in the last four years. There's now on top of everything else there's a Republican and a democratic way to serve the homeless. And if you're doing it wrong, you're drawing those lines in the sand that we all see all around us every day so that's a huge challenge to organizations that want to try and open a shelter, open a respite bed, build some housing for the homeless, you have to fight off. A lot of folks who are going to try and stop. and you know it's it's funny because the one thing I noticed after 21 years of talking to these groups of people that want to stop you from feeding the homeless or housing the homeless or serving people who are in need. They all start the conversation the same way, they start by saying, “Now I'm not a bad person. I really am not but…” And then they go into all the reasons why you shouldn't serve the homeless and, you know, I think we're really struggling with this as a country, you know. I also think that there's a big discussion about, you know, can we ever end homelessness well, but I tell people all the time. “We're not going to end homelessness. As we're doing this podcast, someone is becoming newly homeless, someone is fleeing domestic violence, someone has been evicted, someone is having a mental health episode or an addiction episode and they're becoming homeless, we're not going to end homelessness, but we certainly can solve homelessness.” And what that means is every human being should eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom indoors and should have a safe space to lay their head on a path to some kind of permanent housing, we can do that in this country. 

People who want to say “well no matter what you do, you'll never solve it” and actually people here, people here in Spokane they used to say all the time they say Rob, “how are you going to solve homelessness in LA, and we just heard you know the incredible numbers in LA and frankly I don't I don't know how you solve that in LA like I might solve it in Spokane where we maybe only have 1200 homeless. But what I do know is that it becomes a decision about money. 

You know everything in this country comes down to money and homelessness is no excuse for that as well. You know, we spent $700 billion a year on defense spending and HUDs budget is 40 billion, and up that 40 billion only five 5 billion is earmarked towards homelessness. If we wanted to solve homelessness in this country, we absolutely could just build one less aircraft carrier a year, and you're gonna solve it. And I love America, I love our troops, I am a patriot. Anytime I bring this up people call me a communist, and they accuse me of being an American But the truth is, we have to make some decisions on a federal level as to how we're gonna fund things, how we're going to choose to spend the government money—you know for 20 billion we can end homelessness in this country that Spokane LA, San Francisco, New York, Chicago everywhere. 


20 billion and we just choose not to do it, and you know I think that becomes an obstacle as well. But I'm glad you brought up the numbers. Because, you know, lately I heard a very distressing piece of data recently. 2019 data showed us that in LA County, with all the tremendous services going on, 207 homeless individuals, every day, were being sheltered. And yet 220 individuals a day were becoming newly homeless, so we cannot find housing quick enough to keep up with the new entry and this is pre COVID data. 

So, I guess where I want to go just at the moment is what you each see me and I'm going to start in LA. If you want to build on Rob’s comments, but also I want to get into how COVID has affected things in LA, for better or for worse in your opinion.


Well thank you so much. Yes. Well, most of the, you know, the factors. Rob made an amazing description of, you know, really what the problem is and eventually the solution right like this is not a partisan problem, this is not you know it's like if you were if you are on the left on the right, up or down, or you know which religion, do you have this is like basically a cultural problem the visa problem, you know, like of our times of the gates at the gates of occasion and of like really not, you know, carrying out what what is happening to the other person a very individualistic you know like society that like unfortunately we came on it's very difficult to have this conversation because obviously you know it's like you are put on one side or the other, but go into LA and go into California. 

It's very interesting because California came, you know it's like in the last few decades, with technology became, we technology and innovation became the one that took the sixth economy in the world if, if not the fifth, you know it's like depending on the month that we are you know it's like doing the, the analysis, but we 12% of the US population. California has 26% of the homeless population. And we know that Los Angeles you know it's like obviously ranks higher in California. So, where you know we have, you know, a government announcing five 6000 units you know it's like with a project room key which, you know, has been helpful because it has been a project. Unfortunately, you know that it doesn't happen overnight and takes time, and unfortunately we are seeing right now only the tip of an iceberg of a crisis. You know that it's going to hit very hard, and why you were mentioning those 7 million units of shortage you know is like in affordable housing, California, it's over 2 million you know those seven mediums. 

So, this is a problem that also, you know, in my first early days, almost like six years ago when I was, you know, going to skid row and also helping some advocates. We were talking about the emergency right like we are. We were talking about the crisis we were talking about. 

Unfortunately, it's an epidemic in our society that like, it's such a strong word, but at the same time it's, it's going to consume us because we cannot live that way. That's, that's something that is happening. Even if Los Angeles County Los Angeles City and the state of California now come, you know together, trying to put solutions. The funds are not enough because of us, you know, I started, you know, talking about what Rob mentioned, and I will finish. This is something that needs to be, you know, a decision that needs to be taken by the federal government. And just, it's a, it's a, it's a matter of putting up a plan, because all these great initiatives that we are, you know, like sharing today are unfortunately not enough to resolve these issues in the short term.


Well, and I appreciate that and I can't help but realize that the work both of you do. Rob up in Spokane and the other communities across the country you've led and Damian, in Los Angeles, it's those leading efforts that are going to shine the light I believe for us as a nation for a federal government to build upon so while yes we can't do it alone. 

I can't commend you enough for leading the way and showing us all that we can do it, and we have to build on these and Rob I that something you said leads me to the next question. Ultimately the next question is: what coalition do we need to bring to the table early, when we're bringing solutions to the community? When I think about the Spokane model, the police are involved, EMS costs have decreased, in Spokane law enforcement calls involving the homelessness have decreased more in coalitions closely involved with the jail with outstanding data. So I'm wondering if you could speak in follow up to what you were talking about a little bit about what coalitions do we start for a community that wants to see the early wins that we can build upon?


I tell other Catholic Charities this all the time. If you want to get started in this, the first three people you got to have on board are your local hospital system, your local fire department and your local police department. You got to start there. Normally I'd tell you to start with your elected officials but that can be such a dumpster fire sometimes and I think you should start with the police in the fire department, because everyone loves the police and the fire department. 

That's just the reality in most communities in America, they're first responders. They're heroes, and despite the racial equity stuff that's been going on with police. This past year, I still think that people generally still listen to and respect the police department as they should. Even with changes that are needed there but I would start with those three you need the hospital on board. They're the easiest to get on board financially because they see the ROI of serving people who are homeless who are super utilizers in shelter and housing environments, not in hospital beds. Police in the fire department also have skin in the game, because you know for us in Spokane. Probably about 81% of all nine one calls in downtown Spokane, our medical calls related to homeless people. If you can free up your fire department. That's important. 

You know, we had a guy who went to the ER 62 times in one year from our homeless shelter. And, you know, that's not just 62 ER visits, which costs a lot of money every time you call 911, that's a police truck and a fire truck, and an ambulance that rolls. 62 times a year. You know we got him into housing in the next year, he went to the ER twice well you know he loves that the hospital, they don't want to spend that money in the ER, but you know who else loves that the police department in the fire department and the mayor, and the City Council and the county commissioners, because the truth is if you were I if our loved one has a heart attack, God forbid, we want the ambulance there in three minutes, not 13 minutes because they're on their 20th call of the day at the house charity. It's about utilization of resources so you got to get those three partners on board first. 

The next group is after police, fire, and a hospital, you do have to try and get your local government on board, because that's where, if you're going to try and cite a shelter or build housing, you're going to need some kind of zoning that doesn't stop you. You're going to need some kind of planning commission elected officials that don't actively try to block you. There are so many ways that elected officials can stop the construction of a shelter or affordable housing, that's true in every community in America. So you have to start working there and sometimes that means pressure on elected officials and what elected officials care about a lot, getting reelected. So the best way that I've learned to do that, figure out who their big donors are and go talk to them and explain to them why this is a good thing for the community to serve the homeless. And then once those donors have that planted in their head, they'll share that with their elected officials when those elected officials say hey I'm running for re election I need a check, Bill, those donors will say okay, I'm a business owner, I'm a developer I'm a lawyer, I'm a whatever in Spokane, and I really think this homeless thing is a mess. And here's how we solve it. Make sure you don't block that if you get elected. And that's really the, those are the partners you need but I would say start with police and fire in the hospitals.


I love that and you know as you were speaking about by a flashback 10 years I, I'm going to tell a story and you correct me if I'm paraphrasing this incorrectly but we toured together at the time about 10 years ago the large permanent apartment building right across the parking lot from the rest of it had been built maybe was a year into it. And you had started out with security officers present 24 seven in the apartment complex and I recall, when we walked in there was no security and we met an individual live there and they told us you know what we, we aren't going to let bad things happen, we realized the gift that's been given to us and so we watch our own, and it got to the point where individuals living in the complex knew was a good thing and wouldn't allow illicit events to happen. And I thought it was just a phenomenal concept, so much so that I think you cut down on the security presence, which we did anytime we open a new building we start with security, just to kind of set the right cultural and tone of hope for compliance but over time in most of those buildings, the security presence, kind of wanes a little bit because residents take care of each other, they watch out for each other. 


And it's not perfect. I still get the occasional two o'clock in the morning phone call where the phone next to my bed rings and I go oh god what happened now. And we still get those but it's a very small number, compared to, you know, hundreds and hundreds of people sleeping every night in our buildings, to get three or four calls a year for this population that's chronically dually diagnosed and living a life of chronic homelessness moving into housing, and still only get two or three calls a year that wake me up in the middle of the night. Those are bad, those are not bad numbers. I'll take those numbers any day.


No, and thank you for letting me share that story. Damian, I want to ask you know you come from a business background and philanthropy background, I'm wondering if you could build the same question I asked for Rob as we look for early partners at the table you've both done so much just for hours, coordinated entry, looking beyond just the roof over her head but but also thinking about education and mental health services and substance abuse services and showers tambien where do you find a role for private industry, I'm thinking of you know obviously we're going to the federal government to step up but is there a role for philanthropy for venture capital for insurance companies to see if, as we look at financial support for these efforts, any thoughts on on that.


Well yes of course you know it's like so many decades ago. The term corporate social responsibility was created right like at some point. Those eventually are pockets that you know inside a for profit organization one looks for the, you know, for, for the Super return on the investment but as Rob was sharing. We have been able to grow. You know that these investments are really really really important for so many industries. And so, basically there's a, there's a huge opportunity there. There's a lot of work to do. But at the same time, I think, you know, it's like a lot of different collaborations have started and where things are going to go for good, you know, because obviously there's a huge opportunity. And I think that, you know, the last generation, there's a lot of conversation going on, climate change and a lot of different things—situations that need to be resolved. But I think that, you know, it's like these younger generations understand, like any company has a role to play, and an individual has a role to play. And I think that like what we are going to see is more demand from these companies to be socially responsible. So, You know, we have seen so many different companies approaching us. And you know it's like little by little. I think that, you know, will be part of the whole solution that like that the light will mean that he's like, come together right. While we wait for the, for the federal government to act.


You know, Enrique that's a that's an interesting comment I want to piggyback on that, you know, the, the track philanthropy and corporate and foundation interest in this—successful business owners and business people and wealthy people, you know what they like, they like numbers, they like math, they like data, and the math of this stuff is astounding in Spokane the average chronic street homeless Super utilizer spends anywhere from 50 to $250,000, per year, per person on police, fire, per hospital, jail, court costs, social services, or for 90 $100 a year, they can be in one of our Catholic Charities apartments where they have all the services they need. Right in the lobby of their building, and they have a 93% success rate to stay in there for multiple years, so do we want to spend the $50,000-250,000 per year per person, or do you want to spend $9100 a year, and get people off the streets where—God forbid, they might discourage someone from wanting to shop at the Apple store because you have to walk past a homeless person. Because that's what people really care about is that homeless people may hurt commerce or tourism or retail shopping or restaurants or bars, we can't have that, of course, so you know let's create a scenario where they're housed. And it's a lot cheaper than when they're not housed.


Thank you, I appreciate those thoughts Rob. We're getting towards the end of our time. I have two additional questions for each of the first ones quite simply, can we put each of your organization's contact on our website if organizations want thoughts on how they can do similar work, and do you have other resources you'd recommend we post, that's question number one for each of you question number two. Now we have five minutes left so I know it's a big question but maybe a minute from each. What do you feel the cost to society will be if we don’t address this?


Yes, of course. We would love to send you our contact information. During the COVID crisis, we have been working closely with organizations in New York and other states to talk about how to implement programs like these showers and eventually housing for community college students. The need for solutions like this will rise because each person who completes community college will be more productive for this economy—and for any economy in the world.

Well, the cost for society will be, for one, being miserable, trying to live in a place where our family is our humanity. The people who live with us under the same roof. We have to understand that situation. When people go to the Apple store and complain about the people outside it, we’re going to continue to be miserable as a humanity. We need to be one. 


Thank you so much, Damian. And it’s true that something so simple—a shower—can cascade to housing in a parking lot, housing for our next generation of college students. Housing is important for everyone, but I appreciate the thought you’ve put into your strategy to grow this and the breadth of your work. Rob, same questions. Closing words?


Of course you can link us. I’m going to put Damian’s contact on our website! What he’s doing for such a large population of homelessness is amazing.

If we don’t do something, the cost of this is human suffering. It’s a loss of human dignity. And we’re better than that as a country. We’re going to get judged by how we treat the weakest among us. We’re going to get judged as a country in the history books. We’re going to get judged at the pearly gates, so we might as well do our best to fix them. If we don’t do stuff, we’re going to continue to see human suffering and mispent cost. 

It costs a lot more to let people stay homeless than it does to shelter them. We’re spending a lot more money as a country letting these people stay homeless than we would if we just spent the money to house them tomorrow and every year thereafter. And we can look around the world and see other countries that have figured this out—if we look at many countries in Europe, they have figured this out—and if we don’t do something soon, we should just see more generations of kids that are trapped in the cycle of intergenerational poverty. And none of us want that. We want to protect our kids. 

We can fire Tesla rockets up and have them land on a boat in the middle of the ocean. We can have an entire congress on our cell phone. We can solve homelessness. We have robots that go through tubes to fix your heart. We can solve homelessness. None of those things are more complicated than solving homelessness, we just have to pull it off and have the motivation. 

If we don’t, the animosity, the hatred, the blame for people will grow. And if that happens, we’re going to see increased violence against homeless people. We’re already seeing that now. But it is solvable. 


Well I really appreciate those last words, Rob. We can do this. We can do it together. Both of you have demonstrated that no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, we have an opportunity to work together, to put our best foot forward, and to create solutions that work. It’s a complicated issue, it’s going to need some work, but I thank you both for providing us with guiding lights to help us in the work. 

Thank you for your time today, and thank you for your long term efforts. That’s going to be it for today. For our listeners, hasta proxima mes, gracias. And goodbye.