Jeff Humphrey

Serving Up a Problem

Jeff Humphrey, Media Manager, 509.625.6308

Friday, September 3, 2021 at 11:51 a.m.

Look below the surface of the Spokane River and you’ll find another problem connected to illegal camping along the shoreline.

During a recent riverbank cleanup, City of Spokane Code Enforcement officials discovered someone is kindly leaving behind boxes of donated food for anybody who might need it.

“Anytime that we encounter items that are not waste, it’s always a challenge to remove or to leave in place,” said Luis Garcia of Code Enforcement.

Unfortunately, very few of the donated containers served as someone’s meal. The next morning, crews found the unopened cans and jars scattered along the shoreline. Some of the trash was submerged in the river.

Tyson West knows the pattern all to well.

“I didn’t ever have to worry about eating on the streets because of people’s generosity.”

West serves as the City Director of the Pacific Northwest Adult & Teen Challenge, but is also a recovering drug addict.

The current rehab expert says he managed to survive on Spokane streets through handouts.

“Although they were well-intended, they were helping enable me to stay in that lifestyle,” recalled West.

Well-intentioned offerings are also creating more litter downtown.

This non-profit provides a free breakfast four times a week. On a recent morning, a lot of guests ate their meal on-site and tossed their containers in a garbage can.

However, other people walked away with their oatmeal or pancakes and when they were done dining, left behind a trail of discarded Styrofoam containers

“These entities, typically show up, they deliver a meal and they’ll disappear,” Mark Richard of the Downtown Spokane Partnership said. “And they’ll leave behind a wake of garbage and they leave behind a bunch of folks, who end up camping there for days,waiting for the next meal.”

Richard worries the free meals, intended to help people, actually create new problems. For example, a man who was asleep until the non-profit served breakfast, got out of his sleeping bag, walked across the street, picked up his meal, and went back to bed.

Tyson, formerly homeless, confirms Richard’s concerns that, despite the best of intentions, a meal without a connection to other supportive services is actually doing more harm.

“I was an addict. I was sick. And people were very generous and compassionate because they wanted to relieve my suffering. But the reality is, they were helping perpetuate it. And it just prolonged the inevitable,” stressed West.

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