The Spokane City Council could soon vote on a proposal to allow people to stay in the City Hall lobby all day – a move one council member said could inadvertently turn the building into a warming shelter.
The ordinance’s sponsor, Councilwoman Kate Burke, said it was created to address confusion over city policies regarding how long people can stay in the lobby. In the past, Burke said, signs had been posted limiting people to one hour inside City Hall, and she said she was afraid the policy may have been unequally applied to the homeless.
“I just want to make sure that we are public servants and we are here to serve the whole public,” she said.
Councilman Mike Fagan said he believes opening up City Hall during regular business hours – potentially allowing people to spend an entire day there – could interfere with the work of city staff or turn the first floor of the building into a daytime shelter.
“I do not believe City Hall or staff are adequately prepared to deal with what I anticipate happening,” he said.
Fagan said the city’s bathrooms, cleaning staff and security personnel are not equipped to handle an influx of people, especially the homeless, during the day.
Burke said that if people staying in City Hall during daytime hours did create problems, it could start a conversation about how there are not many places for people to go on cold winter days. She said City Hall is still a place of business, so if anyone visiting the building were to make employees uncomfortable, impede traffic or create disruptions, they would be asked to leave.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she doesn’t think the ordinance would turn City Hall into a warming shelter, but if issues do arise the city will deal with them when they happen. Kinnear said the one-hour time limit was put in place after someone was found to be abusing the space, and the new ordinance would return the city’s policies to what they were previously.
Kinnear said she doesn’t have a problem if people want to drink coffee or be in City Hall without a time limit, as long as the building still remains a place of business.
After losing 150 beds at the House of Charity this summer, Burke said she is concerned that many people who have spent the last few months outdoors will soon not have a place to sleep at night or anywhere to go during cold, winter days.
She said warming center funding the city will consider Monday may not be enough to meet sheltering needs over the winter. In addition to the question of opening City Hall, the city on Monday will consider funding for Family Promise Open Doors to expand its emergency shelter, as well as allocations to fill in gaps at two women’s shelters, Women’s Hearth and Hope House, to ensure women have someplace to go 24 hours a day, according to city documents.
“If people end up staying the whole day because they have nowhere else to go, they won’t get kicked out,” Burke said of removing time limits on City Hall visits. “But at the same time, if that’s happening with a ton of people, that should be a sign that these folks are looking for a place and they aren’t finding one anywhere else.”
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