24 May 24, by Hello for good

Hello for Good Hones Its Focus, Keys In on Education

The below was originally published in the Journal of Business by Karina Elias on May 23, 2024.

Coalition holds free events, supports regional authority for homelessness services

Hello for good, an initiative led by Washington Trust Bank to address issues of livability and affordability in the Inland Northwest, has emerged as a platform for education and connection, says Chris Patterson, community adviser for Washington Trust Bank.

Initially, hello for good—the first word of the name is an acronym for helping empower lifelong opportunities—had lofty goals that included workforce initiatives, addiction recovery, housing, job training, and employment, says Katy Bruya, senior vice president of human resources for Washington Trust Bank and hello for good co-chair. However, members quickly realized they needed to narrow their focus. 

Patterson adds, “I think we had an aggressive approach .We were looking at how do we take a bigger bite to make sure we can address homelessness, mental health, disorders, and addiction. And we quickly learned that the focus was always going to be education.” 

To that end, hello for good has centered its resources to recruiting speakers to present at hello for good’s biannual symposium.  Its Spring 2024 Symposium, Underserved: The Importance of Serving all Communities, was held on May 14 at the Davenport Grand Hotel and featured Chris Pilkerton, former acting administrator, and general counsel of the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

During Pilkerton’s presentation, he went over the themes in his book “Underserved,” which included a brief history of measures, events, and often racist laws following the end of the Civil War that have laid the foundation for the inequality present today.

One such practice that hindered economic advancement in some neighborhoods involves redlining, Patterson says.

Redlining is the discriminatory practice of denying services to individuals based on their race or ethnicity. For instance, mortgage lenders used to draw a red line around portions of city maps with prevalent minority populations to indicate areas in which they didn’t want to make loans.

Hillyard, a neighborhood in Spokane’s northeast where Patterson grew up, has a poverty rate of double the federal level, he says. Helping communities that have been historically underserved helps make the entire community stronger, Patterson says. 

“Our focus is to educate people on all aspects of our community,” he says. “If you have one community that is being weakened by something, you need to make sure that you strengthen it so that all communities are firing on all cylinders.”  

As previously reported by the Journal of Business, hello for good was established in 2021 by a group of Spokane business leaders to address homelessness in Spokane. Washington Trust Bank hired Patterson, a former regional U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administrator who had recently worked with former Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward as a special adviser focusing on human resources, housing, and homelessness. 

The idea harkens back to Spokane’s history of business leaders coming together and achieving great things, much like when the business community came together in the late 1980s and 1990s to tackle economic issues through the Momentum ’87 initiative, Patterson says. That initiative established the community’s first venture capital fund to invest in regional companies and was heavily involved in the development of the University District, among 10 strategic objectives for the region. 

Washington Trust donates office space for collaboration and meetings and pays Patterson a full-time salary to lead hello for good. The initiative also has 13 business leaders on its steering committee. The organization initially set up a donor-advised fund through the Spokane-based Innovia Foundation. Since the coalition began to focus mostly on community education, capital raised has gone toward funding the symposiums, Bruya says. 

At the time that hello for good was formed, homelessness in Spokane had grown to three times the national average, at 0.685%, or more than 1,500 individuals. Additionally, 31% of the homeless population was experiencing chronic homelessness compared to the national average of 19%. Since then, the rise of people living without shelter has continued to increase each year. According to the most recent point-in-time count, an annual survey of Spokane’s homeless population required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in January of 2023, Spokane County had 2,390 houseless residents, an increase from 1,757 in 2022 and 1,559 in 2021. The results of this year’s survey, conducted in January, are expected to be released in early summer. 

Katy Bruya and Chris Patterson, co-chairs of hello for good, say they’ve narrowed the focus of the organization to educating the community through free events addressing issues that impact homelessness. | Karina Elias

While hello for good has shifted its focus to education, it has given its support to other initiatives that it believes can help alleviate Spokane’s crisis. Patterson says he firmly believes that the formation of a regional homeless authority, which would unite local municipal governments, nonprofit service providers, and other agencies under one umbrella to take on the homelessness crisis in the Spokane region, is the best approach to take.

 Bruya says hello for good has worked closely with Unite Spokane, the architects behind the plan. United Spokane contends  a countywide homeless authority would create a more efficient system, deliver trackable outcomes, and provide solid data collection, all while helping people find shelter and receive needed services. 

The plan drew almost unilateral regional support, but Spokane City Council voted 5-1 against proceeding with the plan. 

“At the time, the City Council is not ready to embrace the plan … but we do think it’s the best path forward,” Bruya says. “At the end of the day, we need the city of Spokane because we don’t want to do this without them.”

Patterson agrees and claims that the current administration under Mayor Lisa Brown also isn’t interested in the plan. He acknowledges that there is friction on whether this is the best approach to take but believes it’s important to communicate with all involved. 

 “We can’t move forward unless the mayor is willing to come to the table and meet with those individuals in the city so we can move forward on this together,” Patterson says. “Otherwise, it won’t work.” 

The coalition’s next symposium will take place in the fall and likely will be centered around homelessness, Patterson says. He expects the event will draw 400 people—about double the attendance of other events. Patterson says he is watching closely for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will be announced in June or July regarding what’s known as the Grant’s Pass case.

In that case, lower courts ruled that, under the Eighth Amendment, it is cruel and unusual to fine or jail someone for sleeping on public land if there is no public shelter available. Patterson says he believes the Supreme Court most likely will overturn the lower-court rulings. If that happens, the burden of caring for homeless individuals will fall back on states, jurisdictions, and municipalities, he says. 

“If we go that direction, then the city of Spokane, the county, and the state of Washington will be responsible for managing their own backyard,” Patterson says. “They’re going to have to find new ways to break bread, to come together, and set aside their political differences or whatever it may be. … They’re going to have to work together, period.”