After a year of setbacks, Spokane County and the city of Spokane have agreed to fund a regional shelter that could open as soon as next winter.
On Tuesday, County Commissioners approved spending $2.5 million over five years to operate a new shelter. The city of Spokane will match that funding, and leaders anticipate private business investment will also cover operating costs. The city and county have not yet purchased a building or agreed to a location, but leaders hope to have a longer-term shelter that will serve about 60 individuals open by next winter.
Spokane was met with questions and concerns from county and Spokane Valley leaders this summer when they asked for funding, but the city did not immediately provide a security plan or a budget for the new shelter.
Commissioner Josh Kerns, who said this summer that the city hadn’t provided enough information for him to support a shelter, said the city’s most recent plan included many of the services he was looking for, including transportation, longer-term stays and the stability to help people get out of homelessness. He said the county’s portion of the funding will also not be available until the shelter is already operational.
“There are a lot of safeguards in place before any taxpayer dollars are released,” he said.
Commissioner Al French echoed Kerns’ hopes for the new shelter, saying he hoped it would be more than just a building for people to get out of the cold. He said the two governments have also been meeting for months and have resolved many of the questions that the county’s committee that makes recommendations had for the city.
“There were clearly some hiccups in the last effort, and through a series of meetings, we’ve come to a clearer understanding of what our goals are,” he said.
Letting the city of Spokane take the lead on the shelter could mean the two governments involved will be spending less resources on administrative costs and that more of the money approved for the new shelter will go directly to the community, Commissioner Mary Kuney said.
“It’s much better to work together, instead of go off and try to do these services on our own,” she said.
Kuney recused herself from conversations about the new shelter this summer because she is on the board of the Hutton Settlement, which owns the location the city was considering at the time. She said that building would have been a good location because it’s on the border of two cities and connected to public transportation. She also said she hopes that whatever location is chosen will also be accessible to county residents and public transportation.
The funding for the new shelter is also contingent on it serving Spokane Valley as well, which contributes a portion of what Spokane County spends on services for the homeless.
Spokane Valley City Councilman Ben Wick said he’s appreciative that Spokane Valley has been included in conversations and that other governments are looking to address homelessness as a region because smaller cities will have a much harder time addressing it on their own.
“We don’t have a lot of those types of resources to do that,” he said.
He added that the Supreme Court’s recent decision to not review the Martin versus Boise case, which required cities to provide accessible shelter before enforcing rules against sleeping outside and camping, makes it even more important to work with other governments to create a shelter.
Current Spokane Valley Mayor Rod Higgins said he was also more comfortable with the details released so far about this new shelter, such as that it will be run by the Salvation Army and that there will be space for the Valley, which is helping to pay for it.
Tim Sigler, interim director for the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department, said the new shelter will fill a gap that’s not being met in the region right now to provide longer-term shelter for homeless adults.
People will be able to stay in the shelter for about 90 days and participate in a program that will help get them into housing. He said this approach could free up space in shelters like House of Charity, which fills up quickly and often has to turn people away.
Spokane is also meeting with businesses that are interested in investing in the new shelter, which could eventually make up a significant portion of new shelter funding. Sigler said those meetings are ongoing and that he cannot yet say how much private business is investing in the shelter, though he did note that outside money will be needed.
“To make this truly regional, we need partners besides governments,” he said.
The shelter will be operated by Salvation Army, which won the contract for a regional shelter this summer, when the city was considering several locations that fell through.
Incoming City Council President Breean Beggs said local businesses that wanted to help the homeless were likely waiting for governments to work together before investing. He said this time, he’s much more confident a long-term homeless shelter will come together.
“I’m pretty confident that it’s going to work out,” he said. “The election is over, the need is pretty clear and people are seeing the benefits of regional collaboration.”
Mayor-elect Nadine Woodward said collaboration is important when approaching many issues, but especially homelessness.
Sigler said the planned shelter will serve 60, but depending on the building that is chosen and outside resources, it could increase or decrease. He said the shelter will not be open this winter, but could open by November.
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