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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Business owner says she ‘feels targeted’ by Catholic Charities

FILE – Rob McCann, president of Catholic Charity, is being accused of targeting business owners who complain of low-income housing growth near the House of Charity. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The owner of a salon near the House of Charity homeless shelter in Spokane said she feels targeted by Catholic Charities, the organization that operates the shelter.

Linda Biel, owner of Urbanna Natural Spa and Salon, said she started a petition to stop the organization from building any more buildings providing permanent housing for the chronically homeless in the area near her business. Her petition was part of the “very serious misstatements” condemned by Catholic Charities President Rob McCann on Tuesday, as was a flyer that was riddled with inaccuracies.

Biel said she believed McCann blamed her for the petition and flyer, but McCann did not name her during a news conference Tuesday.

While Biel did not denounce the flyer, she said her petition was “reasonable.” She said her petition didn’t unfairly target homeless people and was not calling for Catholic Charities to shut down its operation.

“We’re not asking for anyone to move or anyone to leave. We’re asking for them to build no more,” she said. “We have a great deal of residents in our neighborhood. They do need help, and I just think if we can maintain what we have, it would help the safety and health of our neighborhood.”

McCann’s organization has built about 300 units of permanent housing for chronically homeless people in the area near Division Street and Pacific Avenue. Construction of two new buildings with 50 units each is planned to begin this fall, part of a long-term plan to build up to 800 units of permanent housing for chronically homeless people in the region. McCann said these new buildings will be the last construction his organization does in the immediate area.

While Biel claimed responsibility for the petition, she said she did not create or circulate the flyer that said McCann was building “a Spokane slum empire” with 9,000 units for a “small army” of homeless people. However, she did say it accurately listed what has happened around her business.

“I do think I’m being reasonable,” Biel said, adding that the large homeless population has hurt her business, which she relocated to its current location in 2016. “I’ve seen the flyer and it lists all the things that happened to us since we moved Urbanna. This winter we’ve had six cars broken into within four months. We were robbed at gunpoint. These are things that make people feel uncomfortable.”

Biel said she has collected 80 signatures on her petition calling to “increase our public safety” by getting “control of the 1,000 people we already have.” But she said she would not have circulated the flyer because it would scare away customers.

“We don’t want those things out,” she said. “I do not want that out there.”

Biel characterized herself as the lone business owner willing to speak out against Catholic Charities. Other business owners, she suggested, were afraid.

“They feel like the Catholic Charities is so powerful that whenever they speak or oppose them, they get a wrath,” she said.