Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward highlighted the city’s focus on mental health, housing, and the fentanyl epidemic at the State of the City address on Thursday.
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Woodward said community members have expressed fatigue, frustration, and a loss of patience in trying to address their mental health issues.
“We can all point to examples in stores, in restaurants, at work, maybe in our own homes with our own families where behavior has been altered,” she said. “There’s people craving stability instead of constant change. Moving forward, we must embrace compromise and demonstrate understanding.”
Woodward said her Mental Health Task Force, which was established last year, is working to address the needs of area youths impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must set the example with our own behavior, and build youth supports that will make them successful,” she said. “Our partner experts on that task force tell us that mental health has a 30% statewide vacancy rate, with nearly one-third of employees leaving [the workplace] every single year. The result is that nearly three-quarters of organizations statewide are cutting programs or reducing access. And they tell us Spokane mirrors that data.”
The task force’s work includes adding staff and resources to make help more accessible to youths in crisis, Woodward said. City officials have advocated at the state and federal level for additional reimbursement and funding to ensure that service providers can maintain and grow necessary resources, she said.
“And we’re bringing greater awareness to the tools and supports that are already in place to create more engagement points for our youth, and remove the stigma of reaching out for help,” Woodward said. “Prioritizing community health and well-being also includes making better use of organizational and community resources.”
Frontier Behavioral Health CEO Jeff Thomas spoke during a video clip at the event. He said Frontier has received support from both the city and Spokane County in a number of different forms.
“One is being willing to try and support new endeavors such as the behavioral health unit,” Thomas said. “Others are making financial investments and other forms of support, not just for mental health services, but also for the many other services that individuals that are struggling with mental health issues are relying upon—housing, food, and other resources.”
Woodward credited significant community engagement in helping officials fight against the fentanyl epidemic.
“People are overdosing at alarming rates, and much of the violence and property crime are directed to that epidemic,” she said. “Bags filled with hundreds and thousands of pills are regularly part of arrests that also include illegal weapons and cash. And if we needed one more reminder just how harmful this deadly drug is to innocent victims, we got it about a week ago.”
Firefighters and police officers recently responded to a call about an unresponsive child during a supervised visitation, Woodward said.
“CPR and narcan were used to revive that child, who tested positive for fentanyl,” she said. “That child was only 14 months old.”
Woodward is working with city council members on an ordinance that would hold those who openly use drugs accountable, she said.
“The community has demanded that we do something about rampant drug use that occurs on sidewalks, in parking lots, in stairways, and storefronts,” Woodward said. “We’ll be bringing that ordinance to the full council in the next few weeks as another way to get people the help they need, while respecting the use of public spaces for all of us.”
The city is also working to address homelessness and affordable housing concerns, Woodward said.
“We’re implementing solutions that provide greater housing accessibility and affordability,” she said. “Spokane has experienced two consecutive years of record demand for residential construction, to add inventory and help people realize the dream of home ownership. And for families to evolve their housing as they grow.”
The city established a new permanent shelter campus last year that aims to connect people to additional supportive services, help them become more stable, and move into permanent supportive housing.
“For those experiencing housing insecurity, we have focused a tremendous amount of resources to stabilize housing,” Woodward said. “We brought together partnerships that opened five facilities in our shelter system that meet specific needs, and nearly doubled our capacity to move people toward permanent housing. We secured and distributed $33 million in grant funding to provide rental and utility assistance to keep people in their homes.”