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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House votes to give churches leeway on housing homeless

OLYMPIA – Churches would be able to house homeless families temporarily even if they don’t have sprinklers or other fire prevention systems under a bill approved unanimously by the House on Thursday.

The proposal, sponsored by Spokane Reps. Kevin Parker, a Republican, and Timm Ormsby, a Democrat, is a response to problems confronting local religious groups and cities for a program that allows homeless families to stay overnight in churches.

Family Promise of Spokane rotates the program among 12 churches on a weekly basis, but 11 of the churches are so old they don’t have fire sprinklers or other suppression systems. To compensate, the congregations use other measures, such as fire watches and emergency lighting to mark exits. But state laws include building codes that require those systems in any public structure in which people sleep overnight.

The legislation provides a waiver from those codes for churches involved in temporary homeless programs. It passed along with another bill that provides more leeway for churches and other religious organizations that operate temporary encampments for the homeless, or allow people who live out of their cars to use their parking lots at night along with church facilities like bathrooms.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said the two bills have the same goal: “It allows families to stay together.”

Both bills were sent to the Senate for further consideration.

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