Reduction of overnight beds this weekend at House of Charity downtown emergency homeless shelter has the Spokane City Council asking for help this fall, even when temperatures haven’t dipped below freezing.
The panel voted unanimously Monday night to solicit proposals from agencies that can provide emergency housing nightly until next summer, when the city plans to open its replacement facility for the House of Charity. The city and Catholic Charities, the nonprofit that runs the facility, announced this summer they would end around-the-clock shelter services because of safety and overcrowding concerns.
City Councilman Breean Breggs crafted the resolution, which asks agencies to respond with the costs of opening their doors every night. City staff had previously said their plan to address the expected 150 or so nightly visitors who would no longer have space at House of Charity was to open up warming shelters, but those typically operate only when overnight temperatures reach a certain lower temperature threshold. The city has yet to solicit plans from agencies to operate those centers this year.
“I was disappointed and frustrated, when I recently learned that we didn’t really have that planned and ready to go,” Beggs said.
A lack of a place to stay when temperatures were warmer than the threshold prompted the opening of the House of Charity as a 24/7 shelter in November 2016.
Camping in public spaces, including city parks, was prohibited earlier this year by the council in other changes to city laws, and several members of the community have condemned the panel in recent weeks, including Monday night, for the decision to reduce beds.
“What became clear, is if you’re going to cut at House of Charity, you’re going to have people going elsewhere,” Beggs said.
That’s a concern City Councilwoman Kate Burke has raised multiple times in the past few weeks, including in an exchange with Kelly Keenan, the city’s director of community, housing and human services at last week’s regularly meeting of the council.
“Now, it’s not a safety issue just at the House of Charity. It’s a safety issue in the entire city of Spokane,” Burke told Keenan at that meeting. “We’re allowing 100-plus more people on our streets. These are our citizens. If the South Hill burned down, we would not just let them sit there and not have shelter. This is completely unacceptable.”
Keenan responded at that meeting by referring to the city’s additional services for those living on the streets, including additional workers to help them apply for Social Security benefits, a fund that will assist landlords in renting to recipients of housing assistance and more workers reaching those living on the streets to pair them with services. He stressed Monday to City Council members that opening more emergency centers might create the same health and public safety concerns elsewhere that had been concentrated at the House of Charity and brought about the decision to reduce beds there.
“I think the biggest thing is, we want to make sure that we’re continuing to move sheltering toward being a platform for housing access,” Keenan told council members at a meeting Monday afternoon.
City officials are hoping some churches and other charitable organizations will respond to a request for plans, including costs, to operate overnight until a new shelter opens in July. That shelter will be designed to encourage patrons to work toward permanent housing.
Burke on Monday night called the council’s action an “OK, temporary solution” to the problem, but said the administration should have acted quicker to offer another shelter option after House of Charity reduces its services.
“I still feel let down by the administration for letting it go this far, without having any solution in the interim,” Burke said.
Keenan said Monday there was no set date for the city to finalize agreements to operate the emergency shelters.
“As soon as we can,” Keenan said. “We don’t have a release date on it. There’s no doubt we’re going to have a bit of a gap, but we’re going to get that (request) out as quickly as we can.”
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