I’m writing because the recent article about homelessness in Walla Walla made several grossly inaccurate statements about our community, its services and misrepresented the drivers of homelessness here.
As someone who works with homeless individuals, I am deeply concerned that this misinformation could foster not only an inaccurate understanding of why people are homeless, but increase the level of stigma facing the homeless in our town.
Jason Wicklund, who operates the only men’s shelter in town, indicated the “vast majority” of people without homes here are homeless because they are drug addicts. That sentiment is not based in fact, on a survey, or the county’s own record keeping.
It doesn’t account for the more than 100 minors in town who are homeless, it doesn’t account for the homeless families here, homeless women, and it paints with too broad a brush why adult men here become homeless or hard to house.
Mr. Wicklund posited that shelters have to decide whether they are “flop houses” or places for “recovery.” I would argue that shelters are neither. It’s not the business of the staff running a shelter to demand “accountability” from homeless people who are merely seeking a place to sleep, it’s their business to house them, and if they want to offer extended services like food and clothing and basic medical care, then deliver those services with quality and compassion.
Instead Mr. Wicklund insists that each person at his shelter meet his criteria, whatever they are, for accountability, or be dismissed as someone who resists help, is a drug abuser, or a problem case.
And for anyone offering another model of sheltering homeless people in programs like Housing First, Mr. Wicklund dismisses them as “warehouses.” Actually, they’ve shown great success.
This is why I find it frustrating to read a statement like Walla Walla has a “plethora of social services.” It does not.
It has a plethora of mostly well intentioned charities and nonprofits with some very hard working city and county staff doing what they can on severely limited funds.
And when I read that the manager of the only men’s shelter in town has such disdain for his own clients and any other way of combating homelessness than the one he has selected I have to question why we’re OK with that situation.