City officials have announced a commitment to fund the House of Charity as a round-the-clock emergency shelter for homeless people in Spokane starting in 2017.
Speaking at the House of Charity on Thursday, Mayor David Condon touted the work the city has done to address homelessness through a housing-first approach but said “24-hour shelter space remains a gap.”
Discussions about funding for the men’s shelter and daytime drop-in center have been ongoing since earlier this spring, when Catholic Charities announced a potential budget deficit of almost $600,000. State and federal funding for homeless people has shifted toward permanent housing over the past few years. Social service providers say that’s a good thing in the long term, but it’s made it challenging for shelters to keep their doors open.
The House of Charity, which operates on an annual budget of about $1.5 million, has run at a deficit for the past few years, but the Catholic Charities board decided it was no longer willing to continue funding it at a loss without a sustainable plan in place, said Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities Spokane, which operates the shelter. Starting Jan. 1, the shelter cut back its daytime operating hours, closing at noon and reopening at 6:30 p.m. for men seeking a shelter bed.
The city has pledged $200,000 to close the funding gap for this year, and officials said in early April they were pursuing plans to have a more robust emergency shelter network in Spokane starting in 2017. The Downtown Spokane Partnership also has pledged $50,000 to cover House of Charity expenses for this year.
“It’s going to take more partners in our community,” City Council President Ben Stuckart said.
McCann is seeking additional funding from Spokane County and Spokane Valley, but he said the shelter has no plans to reduce hours further this year.
By 2017, the city plans to fund House of Charity so it can be up and running around the clock for men and women to sleep. The shelter’s current upstairs sleeping space houses about 100 men per night, but McCann said the downstairs area could be used to sleep about 100 more people.
“We want to be open all the time for everybody,” McCann said. The shelter already functions as a gathering place for many homeless people, who receive mail there, store personal belongings, shower and do laundry.
Keeping the shelter open all day every day would cost about $600,000 per year over the existing House of Charity budget, McCann said.
The city also plans to fund a 24-hour shelter for families and is exploring options with other partners, including the Salvation Army.
The announcement was made a week after police shot and killed Michael Kurtz, a mentally ill homeless man who was staying at the House of Charity. Though discussions about the lack of emergency shelter were underway before the shooting, Condon said it underscored the need for better services. The House of Charity was closed at the time of the shooting.
“Simply having a safe place to go might prevent a similar future exchange,” Condon said.
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