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Hurt lingers 10 years after Zehm’s death

By Jeffry Finer / Special to The Spokesman-Review

I remember Otto Zehm.

Working downtown, I would see him from time to time walking, loping really – he walked fast and bounced from step to step – but I never so much as said hello. I did not know he was a musician, or that he had mental illness, that he sometimes heard things the rest of us didn’t. I knew he had the longest golden hair of anyone on the Spokane street scene. And he sang quietly to himself. He smiled but did not seem to want attention. He moved along in his own world. He’d be surprised what his name has come to mean. And how often city leaders and media cite his life and death.

For Spokane, his name evokes strong reactions.

Some see Otto’s death on a personal level. He was beloved by his family (mother, sister and cousins were closest). He was respected and liked at work (at the nonprofit Skils’kin, where he was a janitor). Friends said he was careless with generosity and would give you his only coat if he saw you were cold. Everyone knew him to be gentle.

Most of Spokane, of course, knows about his death in 2006 after two days on life support. We watched local media play and replay his videotaped beating and restraint by a half-dozen local police officers. We know about the City Hall cover-up, the federal criminal case and Officer Karl Thompson’s conviction.

For some of us, the “system worked.” For others, the aftermath of Otto’s death was a system failure that ruined a good cop.

If you voted in February 2013 for Proposition 1, and 70 percent of Spokane voters did, you remember Otto as the poster child for passage of a strongly worded demand for an independent police ombudsman. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the office of the ombudsman is in tatters.

Spokane tries to move on.

Officer Thompson has served his time and just this month has been released. The Use of Force Commission met for a year, issued two dozen specific recommendations and dissolved. Some recommendations have taken hold; others, such as changes to Spokane’s “police culture,” have not.

Local civil rights advocates press on – working hard to see that we get the independent ombudsman we overwhelmingly voted for, moving “smart justice” reforms ahead to fix our broken criminal justice system, and pushing the city to hire a new chief of police who is committed to implement the changes our community needs. Other law enforcement issues have come under scrutiny, such as the understaffed jail, its lack of nurses and timely medical services. Just more budget-driven problems facing us and every city and county in America.

Overall? We have yet to heal our relationship with our own peace officers. They have yet to heal their relationship with us.

On the day Officer Thompson was taken into custody, the Friday after the verdict finding him guilty of excessive force and lying in a federal investigation, I sat in the gallery behind Assistant Chief Craig Meidl. He and some four dozen men and women – off-duty police officers sworn to uphold the law – snapped to salute as federal marshals led Officer Thompson away. Otto’s middle-age cousins seated with me were stunned into silence. We looked for help but the court had left and its staff seemed powerless.

In 30 years, I’ve never felt such repressed tension in a courtroom. The marshals, wisely I think, took Thompson away uncuffed and the officers gradually left the courtroom. My apology to the Zehm cousins for the salute brought a cold stare from two officers. At the elevator, another officer blamed the sole reporter present for causing Thompson’s conviction.

It is said that no one should be judged solely by their worst day; and in that sense Officer Thompson’s supporters may have been feeling a conflicted affinity for him. But it remains troubling that the department has failed to account to the public for the embrace by 50 of its officers of a convicted felon. Troubling that there has been no apology and no consequences.

A lot needs doing to restore our faith and trust in our police. Their work requires such trust as surely as we require faithful police. The Center for Justice, where I work with a team of lawyers and community activists, coordinates with citizens, police and local officials to make our city safer and fairer for everyone.

Sometimes the struggle goes on quietly in meetings, or noisily in the media. But a certain spirit of gentleness inspires us at times to keep a memory of Otto Zehm alive. Not only as saber-rattling social change warriors but as neighbors, colleagues, friends and people who remember Otto Zehm.

Train bridge safety

Half of surveyed oil train bridges are deteriorating, report says

Waterkeeper Alliance surveyed 250 bridges used by trains carrying volatile crude oil; there are more than 100K in the US

The pier on the upriver side of a railroad bridge over the Spokane River in Washington has missing cribwork and fill, according to the report.

A pier of a railroad bridge over the Spokane River in Washington has missing cribwork and fill, according to a report by three environmental groups.
Waterkeeper Alliance  – photo courtesy of Dancing Crow Media

A survey of 250 oil train bridges across America found that almost half showed signs of considerable deterioration, including missing or crumbling concrete, partially washed-away footings, rotted pilings and badly corroded steel beams, according to a report released Tuesday (PDF).

Determining whether the problems found by three environmental groups pose a threat to public safety is almost impossible, however, because the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rarely inspects the nation’s estimated 100,000 rail bridges, including some built more than 100 years ago. Instead the agency leaves that responsibility to the railroads, which don’t make their inspection records public.

“Because the federal government has shirked its responsibility to regulate the safety of oil trains and the bridges they cross, we are shining a light on the need for immediate, independent inspections of all rail bridges that carry explosive oil trains,” said Marc Yaggi, the executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the groups that produced the report.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, which is dedicated to protecting watersheds around the world, was assisted in the report by two other groups also concerned about oil trains, Riverkeeper and ForestEthics.

The report, “Deadly Crossing: Neglected Bridges and Exploding Oil Trains,” cited Department of Transportation statistics showing that bridge failures caused 58 train accidents from 1982 to 2008.

“The magnitude of the threat of an oil train derailment caused by a failing bridge to the surrounding communities, waterways and drinking water means that, even if rare, an accident could be catastrophic,” the report said.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, who was unable to review the still unreleased report, said rail bridges in use today are capable of safely supporting oil trains, which can be more than a mile in length pulling more than 100 tankers loaded with 3 million gallons of crude oil.

“Railroad bridges are among the safest segments of the nation’s infrastructure,” he said. “Some bridges are painted. Others are not. Some are more weathered than others. But outward appearance does not indicate a bridge’s safety. Inspectors scrutinize a bridge to assess its structural integrity, which is a thoughtful and thorough engineering process, with no relationship to whether the bridge is aesthetically pleasing.”

No bridge collapse appears to have been involved in any of the 10 fiery oil train derailments that have occurred in North America in the past 29 months.

Greenberg noted that the environmental groups’ report involves “observations by noncertified bridge inspectors,” adding that the industry “follows an aggressive 24/7 safety-first process should a bridge inspector or train crew raise a concern about a particular bridge. That structure is immediately taken out of service until a qualified railroad bridge engineer examines the structure to determine its condition.” If a safety problem is confirmed, “a process is in place to get crews to the structure to address the situation.”

But there is no public documentation of this process, so the railroads aren’t accountable to state and local officials. The FRA says Congress hasn’t given it the authorization or resources to independently inspect rail bridges or to force the railroads to be more transparent.

Sarah Feinberg, the head of the FRA, has begun a campaign to get them to be more voluntarily transparent. Her efforts came after Milwaukee officials and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., tried unsuccessfully to get Canadian Pacific to turn over inspection reports on a 99-year-old steel bridge there, dubbed Old Rusty by locals. Concern was raised by news reports this spring that showed corrosion had eaten away the base of some of the bridge’s support beams.

A rail bridge over the Normanskill, a tributary of the Hudson River in New York.

A rail bridge over Normans Kill, a tributary of the Hudson River in New York, shows extensive cracking and major deterioration of concrete, including large chunks of concrete missing from the bridge’s footings, according to the report.
Waterkeeper Alliance

In September, Feinberg wrote a letter to hundreds of railroads, including Canadian Pacific, imploring them to be more open and cooperative, saying, “When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response.”

After receiving the letter, Canadian Pacific agreed to discuss local officials’ technical questions behind closed doors. But the railroad still rejected their requests to see the inspection reports. The FRA looked at the bridge and inspection reports and then declared it safe, without elaborating. By then, the railroad had already announced it would be repairing the bridge, including fortifying some of its corroded steel beams with concrete.

Canadian Pacific did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

Last week Feinberg took the additional step of warning the railroads that complaints about rail bridges are pouring into the offices of members of Congress who have then contacted the railroads and “are coming away unconvinced.” If that continues, she warned, “Congress will ask us to step in more aggressively.”

Matthew Lehner, the FRA’s associate administrator for communications, said the agency won’t comment on the Waterkeeper report until it is released. He said an earlier statement by Feinberg summed up her stance on rail bridges. In that statement, she said the FRA “has started re-evaluating the current bridge management program to identity what more can be done with its current, limited resources.”

“We are committed to working with and engaging more local communities, elected officials and the industry to develop a strategy that will raise the bar on rail bridge safety to meet the nation’s current and future transportation needs. The public has put its trust in the FRA to take smart and prudent action to keep them safe, and we will continue working to earn that trust every day.”

The FRA receives complaints about the condition of railroad bridges almost daily, said an FRA official speaking on condition of anonymity in order to comment freely, and in most cases the problems turn out to be cosmetic rather than structural. However, the official said there’s no formal procedure for adjudicating public concerns about rail bridges and no central record kept of complaints.

In January 2014, John Wathen, the “keeper” of Hurricane Creek in Alabama, posted a video of an oil train crossing a 116-year-old wooden bridge in Tuscaloosa. Some of the trestles supporting the oil train, 40 feet above public parks on either side of the Black Warrior River, were resting on posts that were rotted or had makeshift repairs of corrugated pipe and concrete.

The railroad and the FRA insisted the bridge was safe, but a year after Wathen posted his video and began calling attention to the condition of the bridge, the railroad that leases and operates it announced it would do $2.5 million in repairs. It replaced many but not all the rotted pilings. Whether the bridge is safe is unclear because there are no federal engineering standards for rail bridges and even industry standards are silent about the number of defective pilings a rail bridge may have and still be safe.

In their new report, the environmental groups call for a “publicly available national inventory of bridges, a protocol for following up on citizen complaints and concerns and an enforceable set of standards to guide agency action and ensure the safety of railroad bridges.”

The report calls on Congress to “give the FRA the legal and financial tools it requires to run a robust rail bridge safety program.” If Congress fails to act, the report urges the administration to make changes “within the existing system — or outside of it at the state and local level.”

A crack and graffiti grace the north retaining wall of a railroad bridge crossing the Puyallup River, which drains into the Puget Sound in Washington.

A large crack in a retaining wall of a railroad bridge crossing the Puyallup River, which drains into Puget Sound in Washington. The concrete footings in the water also showed signs of erosion, including large gaps, according to the report.
Waterkeepers Alliance

Currently, states and localities are hampered in their dealings with railroads by a system that places most of the regulatory authority over railroads in the hands of the federal government.

That frustration is what led the Waterkeeper Alliance and Riverkeeper to deploy their legion of river, bay and creek “keepers” in kayaks and patrol boats to inspect rail bridges in watersheds across America. Over the summer, 21 “keepers” inspected 250 bridges within the watersheds of rivers like the Columbia, Snake, Hudson, Allegheny and James. They found and documented what they believed to be structural concerns with 114 of the bridges.

Pat Calvert, the “keeper” of the upper James River in Virginia, was one of them. Two years ago, before he knew about the dangers of oil trains, he was focusing instead on the threat of chemical and coal ash spills to the James. But on April 30, 2014, a CSX oil train derailed and set fire to the river a few blocks from his Lynchburg, Virginia, office.

A year and a half later, he still wonders how he missed the risk rising under his nose. He didn’t realize the mile-long oil trains rolling along the riverbank might pose a public safety hazard.

“I didn’t feel so bad when I learned most all emergency planning officials up and down that rail line also did not know [about the risk] and had not been contacted by CSX,” Calvert said. “We were in some ways being duped by the industries that are involved in this.”

Oil trains are a relatively recent phenomenon, arising from the surge in oil produced in North Dakota through hydraulic fracturing. The number of tankers transporting crude, much of it from North Dakota, rose from 9,500 in 2008 to almost 500,000 last year.

Jerry White Jr. is the “keeper” along the Spokane River in eastern Washington. Spokane is a chokepoint in the flow of crude oil from Canada and North Dakota to refineries on the West Coast.

White surveyed two rail bridges across the Spokane River and elevated tracks running over the streets of Spokane. Videographers Rosie Ennis and Joseph Comine documented White’s findings. All three were shocked by what they saw, they said.

“On the city bridges, you’ve got rebar exposed under the concrete,” said White. “On the bridges over the river, you’ve got footings that have actually begun to wash out so that the bridges have begun to settle and crack.”

Comine said he’s angry and frustrated that residents of Spokane aren’t able to independently assess the risk from oil trains because the railroads shroud their operations and maintenance activities in secrecy, including prosecuting trespassers.

“It’s really a case where large industry has crafted law and policy around keeping the community shut out of what’s being transported through it,” he said. “Before, I never even paid attention to trains … But, wow, I really pay attention to them now.”

After long hearing, council sends immigration-petition signatures for review

From The Inlander; article by Jake Thomas

July 14, 2015

The legitimacy of an initiative petition that would undo a city policy barring police from contacting or detaining individuals solely because they are suspected of being an undocumented immigrant was called into question by its opponents during a drawn-out and emotionally heated meeting of Spokane City Council Monday night.

During the four-hour meeting, the council heard from the initiative’s proponents, who insisted that they just want to see the nation’s immigration laws upheld, and opponents, who insisted that undoing the ordinance would make immigrants less likely to cooperate with police and broadcast an unwelcoming message from Spokane to the rest of the world.

The ordinance in question was adopted into city code by the council last October, codifying a 10-year-old police directive that put Spokane among dozens of cities with some sort of policy intended to steer local police away from enforcing immigration laws. The council had the options of voting the petition into law or sending it to the county to have its signatures verified and potentially placed on the November ballot.

But Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, an opponent of the initiative, didn’t like either of these options. He questioned if the initiative would violate the city charter, calling attention to one of its provisions that would require a referendum on any change to city policies or ordinances that dealt with immigration. He also took issue with a “legislative history” that supporters added to circulated petitions without the city’s approval.

cj11cysusaatia_.png

“[I]f you’re going out and collecting signatures and a biased legislative history is next to what should be non-biased [text], aren’t we really in essence violating the municipal code by collecting these signatures?” he said.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm recalled out-of-town signature-gatherers coming to her doorstep and presenting a petition with the “legislative history.” Mumm said she argued with the signature-gatherers for a half an hour about the legislative history.

Stuckart asked Mike Piccolo, a city attorney who previously advised the council, if they had the option of not sending the signatures to the county for validation. Piccolo told Stuckart the council didn’t have that option, and the legality of the initiative could only be challenged by a citizen group.

During the public comment period, the crowd that packed Council Chambers rose from their seats to show agreement with the parade of speakers appearing before the council.

20150713_193123_hdr.jpg

Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice, said he opposed the initiative because the police don’t want it, and it would be costly and ineffective for them to enforce immigration law.

“This petition violates the law, simply put,” he said, pointing to provisions in the city charter that prevented language not approved by the city from being added to petitions. He also alluded to a potential citizen group that was ready to challenge the petition.

Lisa Logan, community education manager at the YWCA Spokane, asked the council to keep this “dangerous anti-immigrant initiative” off the ballot and to oppose it if it made the ballot. She stated that women in immigrant communities stuck in abusive relationships are hesitant to go to the police out of fear that they will be deported. This policy, she said, made them more willing to trust police.

“I have to warn you that if this practice is changed, victims in our city will be killed for fear of reporting the violence against them,” she said.

Earlier that day, Spokane Mayor David Condon said that he supported the policy. He noted that immigration matters generally falls to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement and called on police to provide equal services to people regardless of immigration status.

“It is incumbent upon all employees of [the police] department to make a personal commitment to equal enforcement of the law and equal service to the public regardless of immigration status,” said Condon.

Supporters of the initiative, who were outnumbered by opponents, pointed to a recent incident in San Francisco, which has a similar policy in place, where a woman died at the hands of an undocumented immigrant. Supporters also routinely said they weren’t against immigrants or immigration, they just wanted people to do immigrate legally. Cindy Zapotocky, a supporter of the initiative, gave the city clerk a copy of Ann Coulter’s recent book Adios, America.

“This is an issue of law and order,” said Jackie Murray, the sponsor of the petition and daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, who added that Spokane has problems with human trafficking and drug cartels. “It doesn’t matter if they come from Russia, or China or Mexico or Ireland, if they aren’t here legally they need to go home.”

At the end of the meeting, Stuckart cited research from police organizations that supported the city’s policy.

He also recalled a guidance counselor at a local school approaching him and saying that a student was having trouble because his father was beating his mother and threatened to deport her if she called the police. The guidance counselor was able to have the boy’s father arrested because of the policy, said Stuckart.

“That’s a real world story in Spokane,” said Stuckart.

The council voted 4-1 (council members Amber Waldref and Mike Allen were absent) with Stuckart voting no to send the petition to the county.

 

You can find the original article here: http://m.inlander.com/Bloglander/archives/2015/07/14/after-long-hearing-council-sends-immigration-petition-signatures-for-review

Dave Dahl of Dave’s Killer Bread heading to Spokane to accept mayoral proclamation, talk second chances

by Mitch Ryals, Inlander blog 5/14/15

COURTESY OF DAVE DAHL
Dave Dahl, of Dave’s Killer Bread fame, will be in Spokane next week to promote the opening of the Fulcrum Institute’s new Ash Street Workforce Studio and accept a mayoral proclamation.

Dahl, cofounder of the Milwaukie, Oregon-based organic bread company, is known for his story of a second (and now third) chance after spending 15 years in and out of jail up until 2004. When he was released, he joined his family’s bread-making business, and with a renewed outlook on life and tons of ideas pinging around in his head, he opened Dave’s Killer Bread in August of 2005.

DKB is now sold in all 50 states and very financially successful. The company has grown to about 300 employees, about 100 of which are formerly incarcerated individuals like Dahl. He says he didn’t start the company with the intention of hiring ex-cons, but he was so grateful to the second chance his family gave him, that he felt he should do something for others in a similar situation.

Dahl will attend next Monday’s City Council meeting (6 p.m., Council chambers), during which Mayor Condon will announce Second Chance Week to promote the city’s new “ban the box” policy. It will be the first time Dahl will speak publicly since his most recent arrest after a mental breakdown in November 2013 in which he rammed a couple police cruisers with a black Cadillac Escalade.

Tuesday, Dahl will speak at a luncheon hosted by the Fulcrum Institute to promote the opening of the new Ash Street Workforce Training Station, a place where ex-cons can learn employable jobs skills and get low-income housing.

Judith Gilmore, community resources analyst for the Fulcrum Institute, says the station will host a silk-screen business and a greenhouse as well.

“If we’re going to provide second chances, we’ve got to do more than say ‘OK, you can wash dishes, flip burgers or spin a sign in front of my building,'” she says.

To that end, in addition to their focus on hiring convicted felons, DKB provides its employees with leadership training that would make them hirable elsewhere.

“The company has put a lot of money and resources into the continued growth of individuals who work here,” Dahl says. “We’re trying to find ways to give people opportunities to be better employees and have better lives, and not just felons, but whoever can use them.”

Gilmore says the Tuesday luncheon is filled up, but Dahl will also participate in a panel discussion Tuesday night in the City Council chambers (6 p.m.) to address how Spokane can best offer second chances to people trying to rebuild their lives after a felony conviction. Other panelists include Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Breean Beggs, Rick Eichstaedt, Clyde Haase, Ron Anderson, Mary Logan, Layne Pavey, Vance Peterson and Kari Reardon.
Dahl will speak about the benefits of hiring felons and giving second chances, but he also points out that there are certain characteristics to look for. His message isn’t “you should hire all felons,” it’s more like “you shouldn’t exclude them from the job pool.” The most successful ex-con hires, he says, are the folks who have been working to improve themselves while they’re in prison and who’ve become active members of the community.

Dahl will also speak about mental health. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and says admitting it to himself and learning how to treat it changed his life.

“People with mental illnesses are not f——- up people.” he says. “They have a personality train that can be weakness, but a lot of times it can be a strength.”

He gives an example from his own life: When he first started taking antidepressants, his entire worldview changed. He was still in prison, but he didn’t want to kill himself anymore. He was happy and had a lot of energy and ideas. It was almost like a mania, he says, which can be very constructive and creative, “you just have to be aware of it and control it.”

Dahl says he’s turned down other offers to speak since his 2013 arrest, but he’s excited to be back in Spokane — he spoke at a business roundtable here about three years ago — and is proud of the work the Fulcrum Institute is doing. He doesn’t do it for the money (he certainly doesn’t need to), rather he does it as a part of his own healing.

“I’m selfish. There’s other ways to get paid besides money,” he says. “I get paid every time I feel the warm rush from people who tell me their lives were transformed because of my inspiration.”

Affordable housing for Spokane’s poor woefully scarce

May 1, 2015

For every 100 of Spokane County’s poorest residents – those who earn 30 percent or less of the median family income – there are 12 affordable apartments for rent.

But take heart. Things are getting better.

By 2019, that number is expected to climb to 13.

These are the conclusions of a new state report that illustrates the gap between need and availability when it comes to affordable housing in Washington. The report, prepared by the Department of Commerce, concludes that 36 percent of all Washingtonians are “cost-burdened” – paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Fifteen percent spend more than half their income on housing.

The gap in Spokane County is larger than the statewide average. A separate report focusing on the city of Spokane, prepared by a Gonzaga law student, concludes that around 6,000 households which could qualify for housing vouchers or subsidized housing aren’t receiving them, in part because of significant program cuts in recent years. Countywide, this figure is 16,000.

The author of the report on the city, Matthew Cardinale, concluded that Spokane has “a significant and growing affordable housing crisis, especially for low-income households making $15,000 per year and below.”

His report proposes several policy changes, including adjusting the tax credits to encourage more low-income rentals. Cardinale started the report while working as City Councilwoman Candace Mumm’s assistant, and the project was supervised by a city attorney and law school professor. It is now being discussed by policymakers and officials at City Hall.

“Where we need more is for people who can’t afford market rate rentals, based on their income,” he said. “They don’t need a case manager. They just need a place that is affordable, that is safe and up to minimal standards.”

It’s not clear what proportion of Spokane’s “extremely low income” population is homeless and in need of more extensive services, and how many primarily need just housing. But the need for the latter was highlighted in February 2014, when the Spokane Housing Authority opened up its waiting list for housing vouchers. It had 2,000 spots on the list, and more than double that number applied.

Not for housing vouchers – to wait for housing vouchers.

Cardinale’s report tracks the gap between the number of needy Spokane residents and the programs available to help them. According to 2012 Census Bureau figures, there are 14,820 families in the city earning $15,000 or less. That includes 8,331 households whose annual income was below $10,000.

But there are just 6,364 subsidized housing units in the city, and 2,391 federal vouchers. That leaves more than 6,000 households that could be “cost-burdened,” homeless or living in substandard housing, Cardinal concludes.

Cindy Algeo of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium said that countywide, around 28,000 families earned $15,000 or less in 2012, and about 12,000 of them received subsidy or voucher help.

“What about the other 16,000?” she said. “We don’t know about the other 16,000.”

Some are homeless. Some are paying hefty proportions of their incomes for rent. What’s certain, advocates say, is that there is a big gap between the need and the help.

Cardinale’s report is intended to encourage the City Council to consider policy changes, including changing the tax credit for multifamily developments.

Right now, those credits can go to developments that set aside 20 percent of their rental units for people making 50 percent of the region’s median income. Property taxes are waived for 12 years for developments that qualify. The City Council lowered those levels a couple of years back, but Cardinale believes they’re still too high, and would like to see specific requirements for inclusion of units for people earning 30 percent of the median.

His report mistakenly concludes that the city is subsidizing rentals that are above market rate, based on a misreading of a very easily misunderstood city statute. But the error does not change his view that the city needs to refocus the tax breaks.

“We need to target 30 percent,” he said. “That’s where the need is.”

Also among his proposals: requiring affordable housing impact statements to be prepared for legislation that affects housing; and adopting inclusionary zoning rules requiring affordable units in developments of 25 units or more.

However far his proposals go, Cardinale’s 116-page report is a valuable record of the state of housing costs for the thousands and thousands of Spokane families who live far below the region’s median standard of living. He did the work in part as a requirement for a scholarship, but said it wound up taking him months to complete.

“It was kind of like having a child,” he said. “I didn’t really anticipate how much work it was going to be until it was already too late.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

Partnership Supports Health of Poor

Barry Pfundt, Barry Pfundt, attorney for the Center for Justice.

SPOKANE, Washington – Unmet legal problems adversely impact the health of approximately 1 in 6 Americans, most especially the poor, according to National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership. A 2012 Spokane Regional Health District study demonstrated how Spokane’s poor have significantly reduced life expectancy. On Jan. 12, a new six-member community collaborative began providing free in-clinic legal services to address the legal needs compromising the health of low-income individuals in our community.

The partners include the Gonzaga University School of Law’s Center for Law and Justice, Providence Health Care, Empire Health Foundation, Washington State University Spokane, the Center for Justice, and faculty and residents at the Providence Residency Clinics. This one-year pilot program – funded by Providence Health Care, Empire Health Foundation, and WSU Spokane – will involve law students and medical residents working together to identify clients with health-compromising legal needs and use a team approach to address them. Faculty from GU Law and Providence Residency Clinics will supervise the students. The plan calls for 12 GU law students to work with 51 medical residents.

The students will work together to address issues such as safe housing – including unlawful evictions and landlord-tenant issues – and income maintenance concerns, such as obtaining and maintaining disability benefits. The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership identified these concerns as among the most frequent challenges not being addressed. The partners’ first-year goal is to provide assistance to at least 100 clients with medical-legal concerns.

“If a child is getting sick because he lives in substandard housing, you could give him an inhaler to treat the asthma or you could help move him to a safe house where he isn’t being exposed to mold or other hazards,” explained Center for Justice Attorney Barry Pfundt, who will be supervising the new legal clinic. “We are not just treating symptoms, we are eliminating the root cause of the illness. And that’s something a doctor can’t always do by herself.”

In 2013, Pfundt helped launch the Center for Justice’s Health & Justice Initiative to increase collaboration between health care and legal service providers for the benefit of the community.

While serving patients is the core purpose of the new Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) Clinic, it will also provide unique opportunities for medical residents and law students. For law students, clinical programs provide an opportunity to work directly with clients, manage caseloads, and hone skills necessary as they begin a professional career. For medical residents, the program creates an opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary care setting that prepares them for the future. Studies have shown that the MLP model can improve health care job satisfaction by enabling health care providers to be more involved in discovering and addressing the root causes of poor health.

“The Medical-Legal Partnership gives WSU Spokane’s health sciences campus additional opportunities to invest in this community and to work, in a unique way, to improve health care in our city,” said Lisa Brown, chancellor of WSU Spokane.

“Spokane is a regional center for health services, and we also have some of our state’s highest rates of poverty,” said Pfundt. “The MLP addresses both of these facts – continuing our region’s leadership and innovation in health care, while addressing the health harming legal problems of those in need.”

Gonzaga University School of Law Center for Law and Justice

Established in 1974 as one of the first law school legal services clinics in the nation, the GU Law Center for Law and Justice is staffed by GU Law students and faculty that provide legal assistance to low-income, elderly, and nonprofit community members while providing law students with practical career training. On the web: www.law.gonzaga.edu.

Providence Health Care

In Eastern Washington, the Providence Health Care regional network consists of 11 health care organizations working together to provide quality health and human services for Inland Northwest residents. Providence Health Care is a part of the not-for-profit, faith based Providence Health & Services organization. On the web: www.phc.org.

Empire Health Foundation

An independent, nonprofit grant-making foundation that serves seven counties in Eastern Washington, Empire Health Foundation focuses on health access, education, research, and public policy. The Foundation is the largest private health foundation in the region. On the web: www.empirehealthfoundation.org

Washington State University, Spokane

Washington State University Spokane is WSU’s urban health sciences campus. Located in the heart of the University District near downtown Spokane, WSU Spokane prepares the state’s future generations of health professionals, and houses world-class research that leads to healthier people and communities. On the web: http://spokane.wsu.edu.

Center for Justice

The Center is a legal advocacy organization that helps thousands of local people with basic needs such as getting a driver’s license back or dealing with landlord abuses. The Center’s programs work to overcome barriers to employment, assist with getting families back on their feet, and keep governments accountable to those they are meant to serve. On the web: www.cforjustice.org.

For more information, contact Andrea Parrish, communications specialist at GU Law, at (509) 313-3771 or via email: aparrish@lawschool.gonzaga.edu.

Posted on January 8, 2015 on Gonzaga News online.

Call for WA Court of Appeals to provide a clear standard on “manifest hardship” for other courts to follow.


by Julie Schaffer, Center for Justice Staff attorney

Yesterday, we proudly joined the ACLU of WA, Columbia Legal Services and the Seattle law firm Terrell, Marshall, Daudt & Willie PLLC, in filing a “friend of the court” (Amici Curiae) motion asking the WA Court of Appeals Division III, to accept review of a case that has tremendous implications on the poorest members of our community and our criminal justice system. We would like to thank these partners for their incredible effort in putting this motion together.

Each person convicted of a crime in WA is ordered to pay Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), the fines, fees, costs and restitution associated with criminal proceedings. The average amount imposed in a felony case is $2,540, despite the fact that 80-90% of people charged with felonies are indigent. Felony LFOs accrue 12% annual interest. If a person can’t keep up with monthly payments, he or she faces jail as punishment. The ACLU and Columbia Legal Services recently issued a report, Modern Day Debtor’s Prison, exposing the scope of this problem.

We see LFOs as one of the primary barriers preventing individuals from exiting the cycle of poverty and incarceration. The Center for Justice will continue to advocate for a smarter LFO system that prioritizes restitution to victims and holds offenders accountable, but that does not punish a person for simply being poor.

The appellant in the current case, Briana Wakefield, is a disabled, homeless, single mother of four children whose only income is SSI and food stamps. Following two misdemeanor convictions, the Benton County District Court ordered Ms. Wakefield to pay Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs). She made intermittent payments, but ultimately fell behind. In response, the court issued a warrant for her arrest. At her “fine review” hearing, Ms. Wakefield presented evidence of her disabilities and subsistence on public benefits. An expert testified that her income falls far short of that for an adult in the Tri-Cities to be self-sufficient. Despite this evidence, the court denied her request to lower her payments or waive the LFOs. This decision was affirmed on appeal.

On February 23, 2015, we asked that the Court of Appeals grant review of this case in order to determine two issues of significant public interest. The first is that Washington courts routinely deny requests from indigent defendants to waive or reduce LFOs, even though courts are constitutionally required to consider such requests and statute authorizes relief in cases of “manifest hardship.” The problem, as we see it, is that there is no clear standard for what “manifest hardship” means. We are asking the Court of Appeals to provide a clear standard for other courts to follow. The second issue is that Washington courts routinely order individuals to pay LFOs out of their social-security benefits. We assert that not only is this prohibited by federal law, but that it unjustly forces people to choose between satisfying basic needs and paying on LFOs to avoid incarceration.

Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets

The new Central Union Mission shelter in Washington, DC

When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don’t need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don’t even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem — a lack of housing — and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions.

The final week of January saw an annual ritual in government statistical gathering that few people know about — the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time survey of the homeless population, in which HUD recruits volunteers around the country to go out and try to count up all the homeless people living in America. This year, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough even joined up, volunteering as part of the San Francisco PIT crew.

Counting the homeless is, of course, a critical element to making appropriate homelessness policy. But good policy also requires greater awareness of a discovery that research continuously confirms — it’s cheaper to fix homelessness by giving homeless people homes to live in than to let the homeless live on the streets and try to deal with the subsequent problems.

The most recent report along these lines was a May Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on “the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.”

Between 2005 and 2012 the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent

By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.

This particular study looked at the situations in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties in Florida and of course conditions vary from place to place. But as Scott Keyes points out, there are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Colorado from focusing on simply housing the homeless.

The general line of thinking behind these programs is one of the happier legacies of the George W Bush administration. His homelessness czar Philip Mangano was a major proponent of a “housing first” approach to homelessness. And by and large it’s worked. Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent. Figures released this month from the National Alliance to End Homeless showed another 3.7 percent decline. That’s a remarkable amount of progress to make during a period when the overall economic situation has been generally dire.

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Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness

But the statistical success of anti-homelessness efforts even in the face of a bad economy underscores the point of the Florida study.

And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven’t yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.

Courtesy of Vox.com  Accessed Feb. 9 2015