Hope Works: Spokane program provides work for panhandling homeless

Jul 30, 2018, 6:40 AM | Updated: 12:56 pm

A program in Spokane is helping homeless people exchange their panhandling signs for actual work, all in an effort to help them get back on their feet.

The Hope Works program is a joint effort between Inland Northwest Goodwill and the City of Spokane, and helps those in need gain more than simply money.

“A couple of days a week caseworkers get in a van trolling around some of our panhandling hot spots here in Spokane,” City’s of Spokane’s Jeff Humphrey told Seattle’s Morning News. “Caseworkers will get out and ask these folks if they’d like to put down their signs for the day and go do some light labor.”

After doing work like picking up garbage or planting flowers, they receive a $50 Visa card, free lunch, wardrobe essentials from Goodwill, access to services such as housing and social security benefits, and a chance to use the Goodwill computers to look for work. More than anything, the Hope Works program helps facilitate positive feelings of self-worth and productivity, which begins a gradual path out of homelessness.

RELATED: Understanding Seattle’s homeless issues

“The caseworkers spend the whole day with them down in the dirt and picking up trash,” Humphrey said. “It’s not like we need people to pick up trash in Spokane. What we need it is to try and make a connection with these people, and when your caseworker is in the dirt right along with you, it creates this camaraderie and takes down a lot of fences.

“They’re really excited about doing it, and not just for the money. Everybody likes working. This program reignites the desire you had when you were 16 and you couldn’t wait to get a job and go out an get some money.”

Humphrey witnessed the homeless people who participate develop a renewed enthusiasm for getting off the street. Many of them used the money to make plans and were ready to accept services in an effort to take the crucial first steps.

“What would really fix your problems?” they were asked. “How can we help you get back into the game of life?”

Could Hope Works function in Seattle?

The Goodwill pilot project in Spokane has been running for nearly a year. Humphrey said he can certainly see the program working in Seattle.

“I think it would work in a place like Seattle,” he said. “Because a lot of these people are simply stuck in a place, and at that particular moment, they can’t see the means by which to get out of that situation. They’ve been down on their luck for so long, they just can’t find a way out.”

The public response in Spokane has been very positive so far, according to Humphrey.

“People are saying, ‘Finally, something that is more of a hand up, than a handout,'” Humphrey said. “That’s what this is. It allows people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and that really resonates with people in Spokane.”

To donate to the Hope Works program and learn more, head here.

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Hope Works: Spokane program provides work for panhandling homeless