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Thursday, December 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

City stays with Jewels Helping Hands to run warming shelter as staff reviews past criminal allegations

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 11, 2019

Protesters line up outside Spokane City Hall last week and shout their support for honoring the contract for the warming center with Jewels Helping Hands. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Protesters line up outside Spokane City Hall last week and shout their support for honoring the contract for the warming center with Jewels Helping Hands. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

After a flurry of concerns were aired about the leaders of Jewels Helping Hands last week, the city announced on Monday it will stay the course with the nonprofit as the operator of a new warming center.

In a statement, city spokeswoman Kirstin Davis said the city will continue to review the allegations made against the nonprofit’s founder and treasurer, “but the initial review into these matters shows that the concerns raised would not preclude the contract from going forward.”

However, the city listed three conditions Jewels Helping Hands must meet before taking the reins of the warming center later this month. It must prove it has obtained the insurance coverage listed in its contract with the city; develop a set of policies and procedures for the shelter’s operation; and connect to the city’s Homeless Management Information System.

“It’s very good news for us, we’re excited about moving forward as quickly as possible. We want to bring people out of the cold and into the shelter,” said Tanya Riordan, a board member with Jewels Helping Hands.

Riordan said the nonprofit was working to meet the city’s conditions “within 24 hours” and has asked the city to clarify its timeline on the improvements being made to the building.

Monday’s announcement is the latest step in what has been a week of uncertainty regarding the warming center’s future. Last week, the city asked Jewels Helping Hands to vacate the building at South Cannon Street while it investigates years-old allegations that the organization’s founder, Julie Garcia, committed theft.

The nonprofit, which was tapped to operate a warming center for the homeless last month, denied the city’s request, stating that it remains in compliance with its $740,000 contract to provide services.

That tension was alleviated Monday by the city’s announcement.

Last week, a conservative blog reported that the newly-formed nonprofit’s treasurer, Jason Green, had pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2013 and served time in federal prison for receiving illegal kickbacks while in an executive position at a food distribution company headquartered near Tacoma.

After Green’s criminal history surfaced, the city amended the contract to require Jewels Helping Hands obtain fidelity insurance.

“He served his time and is now dedicated to contributing to the community in important, meaningful ways,” Riordan said. “He’s an expert in this field, so we have all facts show that he is extremely trustworthy and we need him on our team.”

In a follow-up statement, Riordan noted that the nonprofit’s contract with the city is a “reimbursement structure,” and that the city has “proper controls in place to effectively manage how resources are spent.”

Criminal charges were filed against Garcia after she allegedly attempted to steal from a 96-year-old man she was caring for while employed by Comfort Keepers, a Spokane-based in-home care provider for seniors. The case was dropped in 2015, although Spokane County Superior Court Records do not indicate why.

Riordan said the complaint was “completely unfounded, they’re false allegations made by someone with a personal vendetta.”

Following the city’s order to vacate the Cannon Street facility on Friday, about two dozen protesters gathered outside City Hall to demand that officials “honor the contract” and allow Jewels Helping Hands to open the facility.

The city has set the shelter’s target opening date for Nov. 22. The City Council released $75,000 in emergency funds last month for improvements to the building, which Davis said include “tenant improvements and changes needed to meet life-safety code.”

The Cannon Street warming center is part of a multi-pronged plan to expand shelter capacity through the winter, including additional space for homeless families at the Catholic Charities’ Rising Strong campus and an expansion of Truth Ministries to serve more adult men.

The 24/7 warming center is expected to open with a capacity for 60 to 80 people and eventually provide shelter to as many 120 homeless individuals on a nightly basis.

The City Council had approved the contract with Jewels Helping Hands by a 6-to-1 vote, with Councilman Mike Fagan being the only member to voice opposition.

According to Davis, the council can rescind a contract, but officials have no recollection of that ever happening.

“Administration and staff manage the contract, therefore verifying the requirements for execution and deliverables,” Davis said.

Thus far, the city council members who supported the Jewels Helping Hands contract have stood by it.

Councilman Breean Beggs said he supported the city’s investigation into the complaints, and that he still has confidence in Jewels to operate the warming center. Beggs said the contract with the nonprofit can only be nullified if Jewels does not honor the requirements of it, and there is no language that allows the city to pull out otherwise.

Fagan said on Monday that he believes the council should rescind the Jewels contract, but doubted he would have sufficient support from other council members in doing so.

“What concerns me at the end of the day is the actual qualifications and vetting process that was clearly lacking,” Fagan said, laying blame on both the City Council and Condon administration.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, several people utilized the public forum to speak in support of Jewels Helping Hands.

An emotional Tom Robinson, an advocate for the homeless, described volunteering as a security guard at the Cannon Street shelter last night.

“People were coming to the door freezing, and we kept them outside the door. We were in there, warm,” Robinson said.

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