Salem Lutheran Church Pastor Liv Larson Andrews said her congregation has always felt that it was located in West Central for a reason.
A half-hour walk from downtown and near bus routes, Andrews said the 130-year-old church at 1428 W. Broadway Ave. is the perfect site for the city’s new warming shelter, which will soon be up and running in the facility’s gym. She said the shelter, which will house up to 60 adults, will be a place where people who may be turned away from other shelters due to lack of space, or who already are living in the West Central Neighborhood, can go to escape Spokane’s cold winters.
The Salem Lutheran Church warming shelter is the first in a network of churches and community spaces the city is developing to make up for the 150 shelter beds cut at the House of Charity. The Salvation Army will operate the church’s shelter, which will open at 9 p.m., one to two hours after many other shelters close their doors.
Church building administrator Katie Rivkin said she hopes the training and hiring the Salvation Army is undergoing to staff the shelter, as well as the security modifications, will be completed in a few weeks so they can open as soon as possible. The 60 beds are not enough to shelter everyone who doesn’t have a place to go, but Rivkin said she hopes it will make a dent in the number of people sleeping outside as temperatures drop.
Rivkin and Andrews said they believe it is everyone’s responsibility to look out for their neighbors, not just the shelter system or the city. They said using their church as a shelter allows them to be good stewards of their space and serve the West Central Neighborhood.
“No matter how you feel about the homeless population,” Rivkin said, “they are humans, and it is freezing.”
Rivkin said the other programs the church hosts, such as karate, drumming, Zumba and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, will continue because the shelter will be closed during the day.
She said people staying at the shelter are invited to attend any of the public events the church hosts, but they aren’t required to participate in any religious activities or programming to stay.
The funding for the shelter and staffing was approved during Monday’s City Council meeting. Ken Perine, who leads the Spokane Salvation Army, said the organization was first approached about operating a new warming center about a week before Thanksgiving and is only waiting on the city’s contract to be completed before starting the training and hiring process. He said the organization would manage two shelters with 60 beds and it hopes to be up and operational in four to six weeks.
The city has approved about $1 million in funding to add warming shelters and increase capacity or hours at existing shelters. Women’s Hearth, a daytime shelter, has received funds to open on the weekends and Open Doors, a 24/7 shelter for families with children, will increase its capacity.
Andrews said she hopes that next year, now that the city has paid for security changes in the building, the church will be ready if there is still a need for warming shelters. She said even if the city doesn’t need the gym again, the church may continue to use the space to serve the homeless.
“Sadly,” Andrews said, “I don’t think the need is going to go away quickly.”
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