As Spokane moves into the coldest months of winter, the city’s shelter system is at or close to capacity for some demographics. And while the addition of two new shelters and city funding have boosted that capacity somewhat, many facilities around the city say they have little extra room should demand increase.
The question of available shelter space has been in the limelight for the past month after a hunger strike protest over a city law prohibiting sleeping on downtown sidewalks during the day grew into a two-dozen tent homeless camp in front of City Hall’s doors. That encampment was broken up Sunday.
Kelly Keenan, Housing and Services director for the city, said two warming shelters that were opened earlier this month have been at or close to capacity the last several nights of operations. Michael Shaw, the director of the Guardians Foundation, the organization that has been running the two warming centers, said they have not had to turn anyone away yet, but they are at capacity by about 2 a.m.
Keenan said the city has given money to existing shelters such as Open Doors, Hope House and Women’s Hearth to expand hours and capacity, but they are still working on adding a few more locations to replace the 150 beds that were lost this summer due to cutbacks at one of Spokane’s largest shelters, the House of Charity.
According to the Point-in-Time Count survey, a regionwide snapshot of homelessness, there are more than 1,200 homeless individuals spread across the county. More than 60 percent of the homeless population in the area is male and 16 percent of the homeless population in Spokane is under the age of 18.
Keenan said there is space for about 850 people across the permanent shelter system and the temporary warming shelters. Added city funding to existing infrastructure has increased capacity to almost 1,000 spaces during the winter months. The 1,000 beds, however, are divided into specific demographics; the House of Charity, for example, has available space for women but is turning away about 15 men a day.
Keenan said the city also supports additional transitional housing programs that are not included in the shelter capacity count.
House of Charity is a low-barrier shelter, which means drug screenings or other requirements are not a prerequisite to stay overnight. Sarah Yerden, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, the nonprofit that runs House of Charity as well as several transitional housing programs for families, said residents must follow the rules, such as keeping their animals on leashes and not participating in illegal behavior to stay, but the organization tries to meet people where they are in life.
One shelter that has had open space almost every night this year, the Union Gospel Mission, has some requirements for men staying there. To stay in the shelter overnight, men must pass a drug test and can stay for only three months. They are also required to attend one religious service for every three meals they eat there and help out with shelter chores.
David Wall, the community engagement director at Union Gospel Mission, said the men’s shelter also doubles as a drug recovery program for about 30 men who stay upstairs in the building. He said their requirements are designed for people who are ready to take the next step and find employment or join a rehabilitation program for drug or alcohol abuse.
“There are a lot of homeless people who don’t want our help because they aren’t ready to do a lot of the things we want them to do, like get a job, do a chore here or participate in our recovery program,” Wall said. “We’re trying not to enable homeless people to stay stuck, but move forward.”
Men staying at UGM are required to take a shower at the shelter and wear pajamas that the shelter provides so their clothes can be washed. They can store their belongings in a locked room for the night and have the items treated for bedbugs. There is also a free eye clinic and basic medical care provided at the shelter, as well as legal advice.
The Truth Ministries shelter on East Sprague Avenue usually has space for men as well, lead resident volunteer Chris Turner said. He said residents cannot bring weapons or drug paraphernalia into the shelter, but there is no sobriety requirement. People staying in the shelter, which has space for up to 65 people, must pay $2 a night.
Julie McKinney, who runs the shelter with her husband, said they both work and the $2 goes toward daily expenses and upkeep. She said without that small donation from residents, it would be difficult for them to continue. She said if men don’t have $2, sometimes they will take a food donation or work something else out so the person can stay the night.
Union Gospel Mission also runs a women’s and children’s crisis shelter which can house 120 to 130 people. Wall said the shelter fills quickly, and they often turn away about five people a day; but they will call people back on the same day if space in the shelter becomes available. Women staying at the shelter are also required to be clean and sober and the stay limit is three months, but the shelter will make exceptions. They also run a live-in recovery program for women to go through rehab and keep their children with them, but it is not an emergency shelter and they must fill out an application.
While House of Charity usually has space for women, the other low-barrier shelter for women, Hope House, is almost always full.
“We’ve put a bunk everywhere you can put a bunk in that building,” Jon Corrollo, Ddevelopment director at Volunteers of America, said.
Hope House and Crosswalk, a shelter for teens, are both run by Volunteers of America. Corrollo said Hope House has 36 beds available and around 40 percent of the women they serve have experienced domestic violence.
He said Hope House was founded in response to serial murders of women on the streets of Spokane in the 1990s and is designed to be a safe place for vulnerable women to go.
Unaccompanied teenagers who need a place to stay can go to Crosswalk, which serves youths between the ages of 13 to 17, or the Crisis Residential Shelter run by Youth, Family, Adult Connections, which serves youths ages 12 to 17.
Corrollo said there are 18 beds available at Crosswalk and they usually have from seven to 10 teens staying there. He said they always have enough capacity for the number of youths who stay at the shelter and they also have classes so teens can work toward their GED or connect to services.
YFA Connections CEO Cathy Doran said five of the shelter’s 16 beds are open. She said they fill beds through referrals from law enforcement of runaway or unaccompanied minor cases or children from foster care. She said youths can stay at the crisis shelter for 15 days and are then referred to the HOPE program. That program is primarily for homeless children outside the state system, many of whom come on their own if their parents never pick them up from the hospital or detention.
She said over the past five years, the demographic of youth the center serves has shifted and many have mental health or substance abuse issues.
She said many teenagers prefer to stay at Crosswalk because of how structured the YFA Connections crisis shelter is due to licensing requirements. She said youths staying there must be supervised at all times, and cellphones are taken away.
Keenan said the city plans to permanently add 100 to 150 shelter beds by adding a 24/7 homeless shelter this summer. He said the location has not been finalized yet, but the planned go-live date is July 1.