SPOKANE, Wash. -Jaymee Wright was trying to turn her life around. After years of drug addiction and homelessness, Wright decided it was time for a positive change.
So, in May of 2017, the 22-year-old applied for the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program, which gives short-term housing assistance to homeless people in the Inland Northwest.
Wright had just been released from jail and was placed on house arrest, which meant she needed to find a home or else face more time behind bars.
“I went to the Goodwill to get into the HEN program,” said Wright. “She said ‘you could wait two weeks.’ That wouldn’t work. I would go back to jail. I needed somewhere to be to be under house arrest.”
Due to a shortage of affordable housing, the New Washington Apartments in downtown Spokane were Wright’s only option at the time. These apartments, located on the 300 block of W 2nd Avenue, house nearly a dozen level three and level two sex offenders.
“I was trying to stay clean and sober,” said Wright. “So it doesn’t seem like a good situation but it was my only option.”
Wright visited the apartments and signed the paperwork needed to move forward, but she wouldn’t last the night.
“I felt so unsafe and so disgusted,” said Wright. “It was nasty and there was stuff all over the walls, the door wouldn’t shut, and I was in the one hallway with no camera. The camera didn’t work.”
Fearing for her safety, Wright didn’t stay. Instead, she went back to jail.
Wright is now nine months sober and living with a family who took her in.
As for the HEN program, the staff is aware that the New Washington Apartments is used to house high-risk sex offenders, but their hands are tied for a couple of reasons.
According to Heather Alexander, the Sr. Director of Marketing and Strategic Communications at Goodwill, which operates the HEN program, the vacancy rate for low-income housing is around one-percent.
“I think that’s one of the most challenging situations,” said Alexander. “For some of them, it means waiting a long time to find a place to live because there is a lack of available housing in our community.”
Alexander says in addition to a lack of affordable housing, they have to comply with the Fair Housing Law, which prohibits them from stirring people away from a particular location.
“We can’t tell people to stay away from here, or stay away from there,” said Alexander. “We have to be careful about that.”
Alexander also says HEN participants find their own apartment, view it, and sign a lease. Goodwill does not select apartments for HEN participants.
In addition, before signing a lease, the HEN participant must have the landlord review and sign a detailed “Habitability Certificate” that outlines HUD habitability guidelines.
“Our commitment is to our participants and to helping them find a place,” said Alexander. “So they’re not sleeping on the streets, not camping in their cars.”
Alexander says there are currently no women staying in the New Washington Apartments through the HEN program. She also says they have received no complaints from former program participants regarding unsafe living conditions and would investigate such incidents.