'Angel of mercy': CHAS Health worker Ilze Zarins-Ilgen has built trust with Spokane's homeless population

<p><p>Ilze Zarins-Ilgen is the “Angel of Mercy” to the homeless of Spokane.</p></p><p><p>At least according to Patty Severud, a friend of Zarins-Ilgen.</p></p><p><p>Severud nominated Zarins-Ilgen for The Spokesman-Review’s Inland Northwest Women of the Year, which honors women from Eastern Washington and North Idaho.</p></p><p><p>Zarins-Ilgen, 70, has helped the homeless as a street outreach community health worker the last 14 years for CHAS’s Denny Murphy Clinic in downtown Spokane. She works to ensure the health and well-being of people who live on the streets, alongside river banks and under the bridges of Spokane.</p></p><p><p>That’s often more than providing food, water and clothing. Zarins-Ilgen said she also tries to address homeless people’s emotional health. That means making them feel validated, building trust and allowing them to vent their anger.</p></p><p><p>She said people who are homeless are often overlooked but they deserve dignity and respect.</p></p><p><p>“How can I help you today?” is a question she often asks. “What’s the best thing I can do to help you?”</p></p><p><p>In her nomination letter, Severud said Zarins-Ilgen’s knowledge of the plight of the homeless is unmatched.</p></p><p><p>“She honors this ‘unknown population’ by calling them by name, and she knows them all,” the letter said.</p></p><p><p>Zarins-Ilgen described helping the homeless as “futile some days and mostly rewarding others.”</p></p><p><p>“I love doing it because I love humanity,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Severud said that Zarins-Ilgen has a car full of snacks for both animals and people, some dry clothing and sometimes blankets and eyeglasses.</p></p><p><p>“You can always count on a warm hug and a concerned conversation from Ilze … she truly cares,” the letter said.</p></p><p><p>Severud met Zarins-Ilgen 10 years ago when the two were assisting Spokane’s homeless community. </p></p><p><p>“I didn’t work with her,” Severud said. “I wish I did. Oh, the things I could have learned. Yeah, she’s incredible.”</p></p><p><p>Severud worked at the Coalition of Responsible Disabled, a social service organization formerly near Kendall Yards in West Central Spokane.</p></p><p><p>Severud said homeless people often set up camp near the coalition office, so she would interact with Zarins-Ilgen when she came by to offer assistance to those at the camp.</p></p><p><p>She said she saw Zarins-Ilgen deescalate arguments between Kendall Yards homeowners and homeless people. There were a lot of problems between the two groups when Kendall Yards was being developed, Severud said.</p></p><p><p>Severud recalled one time when Zarins-Ilgen took aside a homeowner who was arguing with a homeless person. She said even though the homeless person was supposedly in the wrong, Zarins-Ilgen calmed the homeowner down and he later apologized to coalition staff.</p></p><p><p>“She’s really good at that,” Severud said.</p></p><p><p>She said Zarins-Ilgen is a good listener and has a nonthreatening demeanor.</p></p><p><p>Severud said another time Severud and others were trying to move a homeless man’s camp from near the coalition’s office.</p></p><p><p>She said the man was mentally ill and was getting very upset, so Zarins-Ilgen came by and asked the man to get a beer with her so the others could continue moving the man’s belongings away from the site.</p></p><p><p>“She just knows what to do,” Severud said.</p></p>