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Tuesday, November 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Spokane city employee leading homeless shelter efforts resigns

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 3, 2019

Kelly Keenan, director of the city’s Community Housing, Health and Human Services department, is pictured at left, with Dawn Kinder, Tija Danzig and David Lewis during an April 9, 2018, presentation concerning the Spokane Regional Point-in-Time census of people experiencing homeless in the Spokane community. Keenan resigned from his position on Monday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Kelly Keenan, director of the city’s Community Housing, Health and Human Services department, is pictured at left, with Dawn Kinder, Tija Danzig and David Lewis during an April 9, 2018, presentation concerning the Spokane Regional Point-in-Time census of people experiencing homeless in the Spokane community. Keenan resigned from his position on Monday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

As the city scrambles to open a new shelter and temporary warming center before winter, the man in charge of the effort has resigned.

Kelly Keenan, director of the city’s Community Housing, Health and Human Services, submitted his resignation to Mayor David Condon on Monday. His resignation letter did not elucidate his reasons for leaving, but stated that his final day will be Oct. 11.

In a statement, Keenan said that his decision to resign was “very difficult and personal.”

“I have appreciated the opportunity to work with an amazing team of compassionate, hard-working, problem solving people and have confidence in their ability to continue to move forward with impactful programs and solutions. My priority is to support their efforts with everything I have in the next week,” Keenan said.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who along with other council members has accused Mayor David Condon of failing to dedicate adequate resources to the search for a new homeless shelter, lamented Keenan’s departure.

“You lose good people when you put that much pressure on them,” Stuckart said.

Keenan, who has worked for the city since 2011 and earned a salary of $109,348.56, succeeded former CHHS Director Dawn Kinder in 2017. Kinder replaced Jonathan Mallahan in 2016.

“Our team is appropriately staffed, but these are complex issues that cities across the nation are addressing. Our team is working to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible while continuing to support a broad array of existing services and capital projects,” said Kirstin Davis, a city spokesperson.

Officials issued assurances that Keenan’s abrupt departure will not throw a wrench into the city’s plans to open a new emergency homeless shelter and temporary warming center this fall. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Tim Sigler, who has worked in the department since 2014.

In a statement addressing Keenan’s departure, Condon praised Keenan and said he was “sorry to see him go.”

“Kelly has poured his time, talents and passion into supporting our most vulnerable through community services and resources,” Condon said. “He has led a highly qualified team through a very difficult transition, addressing the needs of those experiencing homelessness while best practices have evolved in a short period of time.”

City staff have spent the last several weeks visiting potential sites for a 60-bed homeless shelter, which it has tapped the Salvation Army to operate. According to the most recently publicized information, that shelter will be supplemented through the winter by a temporary warming center operated by Jewels Helping Hands – the location of which also has yet to be determined.

Keenan was tasked with leading the city’s frenetic search for a homeless shelter and temporary warming center, which reached its nadir last weekend, when officials scrambled to temporarily expand low-barrier shelter capacity in Spokane as overnight temperatures threatened to dip below freezing.

The city first announced plans to open a new shelter by July 1, after it ended funding for a 24/7 shelter at House of Charity last September, but it has failed to identify a location as winter weather approaches.

In July, the city unveiled plans for a 120-bed shelter at the former Grocery Outlet building on East Sprague Avenue, and the Spokane City Council signed off on a $50,000 earnest payment to enter into a purchase and sale agreement on the property.

But the plans met pushback from the surrounding East Central neighborhood, which Keenan bore the brunt of as the city’s representative during a public meeting to garner community feedback.

The East Sprague plans fell apart amid the community outcry and the city’s failure to win pledges funding support for the shelter from Spokane County and Spokane Valley, which the city had envisioned as regional partners. The purchase and sale agreement has now expired.

Since then, city staff have worked to formulate a plan B.

The city’s immediate goal is to secure a location, likely through a lease, for a new 24/7 shelter operated by the Salvation Army. The 60-bed facility will be supplemented with two warming centers with a capacity for up to 150 people.

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