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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Construction starts on Catholic Charities $4.48 million unit for homeless

Rob McCann, who is leaning forward in this image from September 2017, is the director of Catholic Charities Spokane, which is building two more downtown apartment buildings aimed at people escaping homelessness. They will be the fourth and fifth buildings erected by the religiously-affiliated affordable housing provider. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Catholic Charities, which runs Spokane’s largest homeless shelter and has built hundreds of permanent homes for chronically homeless people, has started construction on a four-story, 51-unit building on the east end of downtown that will house formerly homeless people.

The $4.48 million Father Bach Haven Four, which was issued building permits earlier this month, will be built adjacent to the existing Donna Hansen Haven on South State Street just off Second Avenue at 164 S. State St. The building, expected to be complete by the end of 2019, is also a block from the original Father Bach Haven and less than three blocks from the Buder Haven and Marilee apartments.

The four existing buildings provide nearly 200 units for formerly homeless people. All but the Marilee, which is run by Volunteers of America, are Catholic Charities buildings.

The religiously affiliated affordable housing provider has plans for a fifth apartment building – called Father Bach Haven Five – for people trying to escape homelessness, on the northeast corner of Division Street and First Avenue. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

In all, when the two new buildings are complete, 300 units of transitional housing will be within a third of a mile of each other on the eastern fringe of downtown and around the corner from the House of Charity, the 220-bed homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities.

“It started with Father Bach Haven back in 2012. We won’t stop until we build an apartment for every chronically homeless man, woman and child in Spokane,” said Rob McCann, president of Catholic Charities Spokane. “That goal comes with an awful lot of controversy.”

The organization’s work to help homeless people get shelter came under fire this summer, after anonymous flyers riddled with inaccuracies stoked business owners near the buildings to criticize the concentration of such housing.

At the time, McCann said Catholic Charities would not change its long-term plan to build up to 800 units of permanent housing for chronically homeless people, a goal he has reiterated. He said most people support the work of Catholic Charities, even if indirectly.

“The goal is to keep them in housing,” he said. “That’s a much better option than having people pushing shopping carts downtown and taking a break in the Nordstrom shoe department.”

McCann acknowledged that seeing numerous homeless people on the east end of downtown can be troubling, but insisted it wasn’t a “concentration” of people.

“A lot of them are having their worst day ever on any day of the week,” he said, noting the mental health and substance abuse issues many homeless people struggle with can be “hard to look at and hard to watch for the average person. We mitigate that by having lots of support systems for these folks who are very fragile.”

Catholic Charities has no plans to build in the east end of downtown beyond Father Bach Haven Five, but McCann said that could change.

“We do intend to keep building as long as there’s a need for it,” he said.

The issuance of the building permits by the city follows the weekslong presence of a homeless encampment in front of City Hall known as “Camp Hope,” which was shut down earlier this month after the city notified campers they were violating the anti-camping law.

Organizers behind the camp vowed to keep agitating for a full repeal of the city’s anti-camping and sit-lie laws, saying they criminalize homelessness.

The Washington State Housing Finance Commission approved financing for Father Bach Havens Four and Five in April, giving Catholic Charities $9.8 million in tax-credit equity for each of the new buildings.