by Daisy Pongrakthai
Dr. Barry Bacon is a physician serving Northeast Washington at the Colville Community Health Center. Recently Dr. Bacon has spearheaded The Hope Street Project, a vital endeavor with a mission of giving long-term supported housing to the less fortunate and chronically homeless. Since the Project’s start-up last November, a number of transformations have been happening, from uniting community to giving hope to families who need a home. Dr. Bacon shares more…
What got you interested in starting a homeless project in the Colville area?
This project was the natural outgrowth of work we have been doing for the past few years. A colleague of mine asked me if I could do something about the “revolving door” phenomenon in our jails – addiction, criminal behavior, jail time, repeat. We began an intervention treating narcotics addicted individuals in our local jail in order to help them begin their lives in recovery. We recognized that one of the biggest barriers to success was the lack of clean and sober housing, so my wife and I opened the first Oxford House in Northeast Washington in order for people in recovery would have somewhere to go. Through this experience, we recognized the suffering of people without basic shelter. We recognized the connections between addiction, mental illness, poor childhood outcomes, poverty, despair, and homelessness. As a physician, I felt that if I could do something to address these issues, I should try.
What is the name of the Project and what did it take to come up with it?
We call it the Hope Street Project. It grew from a discussion with our leadership team. Someone suggested that the project is about hope. We asked for suggestions for a name with the word hope included. We voted on this suggestion. I like it. It sounds like a destination as well as a movement.
What is your history of charity projects?
I have worked on projects internationally and locally. Here are the recent ones:
Tri-County Community Health Fund– started in 2003 to assist people without insurance in accessing necessary health services.
Get Fit Colville – a community based project emphasizing lifestyle-based practices to improve health. Together we lost 7,000 lbs.
Narcotics Addiction Jail Intervention– bringing effective treatment to the jail to assist people stepping into recovery while incarcerated.
Colville Oxford House– clean and sober living for women and women with children in recovery.
Bacon Bike Hostel– free place to stay for people from around the world biking across the state or country.
Hope Street Project– transforming lives by creating temporary and permanent shelter for people who are currently homeless.
Rwanda Orphan Project– helping orphans of the genocide transition to successful adulthood.
Pokot Turkana Peace Initiative– connecting development to a peace process between two warring tribes in northern Kenya.
International Family Medicine Development– I volunteer one month each year teaching physicians in Africa to be excellent doctors.
How did the Hope Street Project get organized and how long has it been operating?
We began an ad hoc monthly meeting process in November 2015. We have been developing the ideas related to addressing homelessness since then.
What are your visions for this Project?
We would like to continue growing the project to include larger segments of the communities. We want to develop temporary and permanent solutions to homelessness. We want to do more than house people. We want to transform lives. For this reason, we need to recruit people gifted in wrap around services such as mental health counseling, spiritual care, job training, addiction treatment and peer support. We want to be a model for other small communities and develop relationships with like minded groups in Pend Oreille and Ferry counties as well as with tribal members.
What is your initial plan to provide housing?
People need temporary housing, especially when coming off the streets. Not everyone is immediately able to become a home owner. Temporary housing, a place to be safe, warm, store stuff, take a shower and have support is one answer. We need that, but we need more than that. One permanent solution we have come up with is building tiny homes. We are working on purchasing property to create a tiny home village for qualifying people and families. Tiny homes on wheels can also be housed on family or beneficiary property.
Who are your helping hands?
There are many fine people who are committed to this project, too many to name. People who have experienced homelessness, mental illness, poverty, or addiction are some of our most powerful allies. Mental health professionals, medical people, builders, plumbers, civic leaders, businessmen and women, interested citizens, church leaders. One of the best things about the project is that it doesn’t matter what stripe of humanity you are from. You can help us to create something significant.
Why is homelessness an issue, in your expertise, in this area and in our country?
I was in Portland last weekend. My taxi driver recited a horrendous experience he had living in Portland: guns pulled on his front porch ready to shoot someone, bags of meth in his back yard, needles lying in his grass. In his neighborhood, you couldn’t leave a light bulb, or a garden hose, or flowers outside or they would be gone by morning. We passed tent villages cobbled together with tarps blighting the city and young people staggering across the grass. Over 100 new families are moving into Portland every day. Housing is at a crisis: homes selling within one day of listing and bidding wars driving up prices. Housing is not affordable or available for many. We are seeing the tip of the iceberg – the brokenness of our society spilling out of our cities and into small towns. We need to develop community based local solutions to the issues related to homelessness or we are doomed to the same disastrous results of our large cities. I am convinced that we can do better. The Hope Street Project will find better solutions.
I talked to a homeless young man today struggling with mental illness and addiction who stays in an outdoor basement stairway at his church. He rolls out his sleeping bag there every night and is comfortable. His church wants to help him. He has no place to shower. He gets water from a spigot and food where he can. He toilets in places in town where no one will see him, or at a local store. I want to build him a tiny shelter, some place to get in out of the weather. I want to partner with his church leadership. I want to change this man’s life because someone gave him shelter, and I want to transform his church as well. Then I want to see if another church will follow their example, and another, and another. I will ask every church to take one homeless person, one family, and help them. We have to start somewhere. Then we will change our community, then the world.
Dr. Bacon and his team are inviting people with their unique skill sets to get involved with the project, encouraging anyone who wants to be the change they wish to see in our community to join our mission. So far, the Hope Street Project has raised $47,300 from the Bacon Fundraiser ($29,500), a grant from the Empire Health Foundation ($12,500) and the Doctors Concert ($5,300). To get involved or donate contact Dr. Barry Bacon at baconbarry -at- juno.com.