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Non-Profit Spotlight

Catholic Charities Spokane

“Just today, we had a 16-year-old young woman come in, and she’s pregnant. She is in a situation of serious poverty and instability.” says Rob McCann, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Spokane. It’s a common story for the agency — a person in our area who is experiencing a season or even a lifetime of difficulty, heartbreak, and struggle. But she has come to the right place. 

“So of course,” McCann says, moving into problem solving mode, “Immediately we’re going to work with her to make sure she gets what she needs: a crib, diapers, food assistance, medical care, and above all, safe housing.” But that’s just the beginning. 

At Catholic Charities, McCann and his team think generationally. “A big part of our work is that of a lifeguard, helping people get out of a dangerous river. We will always do that, and it is a big part of our mission. But we also need to go upstream and ask: how are people getting into the water to begin with?”

After they’ve addressed immediate needs, the next question, McCann says, is: “how do we do everything we can to make sure her baby doesn’t come to us in a desperate situation sixteen years down the road?” 

CCS is on a mission, informed by current research, to address the root causes of chronic homelessness and break that cycle. “We know the factors,” McCann says. “Untreated mental health conditions, untreated substance abuse, and adverse childhood experiences from birth to age five.” Abuse, neglect, food instability, homelessness. 

CCS has many programs designed to address these issues, from the House of Charity to Food For All, a food security and nutrition effort in all of CCS’s 13 counties that prioritizes healthy, organic foods. As the farmer’s market season gets into full swing, one aspect of Food For All will allow people to trade food stamps for healthy produce from local farmers.

With diverse programs, explosive growth since 2000, complex funding, an annual budget around 20 million dollars and a staff of 280, McCann says that Catholic Charities is the area’s number one provider of social services, aside from the state. 

“This sort of scale—payroll, contracts, transactions—calls for a significant banking relationship, and INB has been a great partner for us,” McCann says. “There are a lot of complex and serious things we worry about, but banking is not one of them.”

In the last few years, CCS has tackled perhaps its most complex mission yet: Providing a home for every chronically homeless person in Spokane. “Having a home is the number one thing that leads to stability and success,” McCann says. Having a stable place to go helps pull people out of dangerous waters and stops harmful cycles for individuals, families, and generations. Their tackling the need with partners like the State of Washington and Volunteers of America, and a series of construction projects like Fr. Bach Haven and the new Buder Haven (set to open summer 2016) and the new Rising Strong program. 

Catholic Charities’ housing work locally is part of a nationwide movement called Housing First, a research-based approach to homelessness that removes barriers to housing based on the fact that people’s lives improve much faster when they move from shelters and transitional housing into permanent homes. Housing First also costs the public less in the long run.

For McCann and CCS, the task is nothing less than this: “We want to keep building until every chronically homeless person in Spokane has an apartment.”