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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City inks deal on new warming center for Spokane homeless

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 22, 2019

The Spokane City Council voted on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019 to lease 527 S. Cannon to use as a warming center for the homeless. The deal includes an option to buy the building, photographed in March 2019. The city also used the building last winter as a homeless shelter. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane City Council voted on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019 to lease 527 S. Cannon to use as a warming center for the homeless. The deal includes an option to buy the building, photographed in March 2019. The city also used the building last winter as a homeless shelter. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

After months of harried searching, the city may have found a new emergency homeless shelter.

The Spokane City Council agreed Monday to a 60-day lease agreement for a building on South Cannon Street that will first open as a temporary warming center with capacity to serve up 120 single adults. Should the city exercise an option to buy the building for $395,000 at the end of the lease, the facility would become a permanent, targeted-capacity emergency homeless shelter.

Monday’s action provides some relief to the immediate need for shelter as winter weather sets in on Spokane and multiple shelters, such as the Hope House and House of Charity, report regularly turning the homeless away because they are full.

The lease is part of a multifaceted plan unveiled by city officials on Monday to expand capacity at temporary warming centers through the winter.

The Spokane City Council quickly made good on its promise to fund additional shelter in Spokane, approving more than $1 million in funding to kickstart an expansion of nightly capacity for up to 200 people at multiple locations throughout the city.

The council approved the plan in a 6-0 vote. Councilman Mike Fagan was absent.

In the first phase of three in its plan to address homelessness this winter, the city will lease the building at 527 South Cannon Street, which also operated as a temporary warming center last winter, for $5,500 per month.

The agreement includes an option to buy the facility for $395,000.

The warming center will open with a capacity for 60 adult men and women, but could eventually accommodate 120. It will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The council tapped Jewels Helping Hands to operate the warming center, which is expected to be opened and operational in about two weeks.

“It can’t be about politics. It can’t be about my side or your side. These are people in a city, and I’m watching them die in the streets of the city we all love,” Julie Garcia, founder of Jewels Helping Hands, told the council on Monday.

The operational cost of the shelter for six months is $740,000. With $240,000 of that funding already accounted for in the city budget, the council approved an additional $500,000 on Monday.

To supplement the city’s system, Catholic Charities will provide 24/7 overflow space for families at its Rising Strong facility to help address insufficient capacity at Family Promise’s Open Doors shelter. Catholic Charities has offered to take in about 45 more people at Rising Strong, and will receive referrals through Family Promise.

The council approved $495,841 to fund the temporary Catholic Charities program through the winter.

Council President Ben Stuckart noted the effect the funding would have on homeless families, who he argued are not homeless due to addiction. He implored the community to not “pigeonhole” homeless people in such a way.

“We all live here, whether you have a house or not,” Stuckart said.

For women in need of shelter, the Volunteers of America has agreed to extend its shelter hours, while Transitions will extend the daytime hours of its Women’s Hearth to include weekends.

To support the increased service at Women’s Hearth, the council approved $154,794, which will pay for the weekend hours through 2020. The council also signed off on $28,050 for Hope House to expand its nightly hours for the next five months. Both expenditures were already funded in the city’s budget.

In the second phase of the city’s winter shelter plan, the city plans to pay for Truth Ministries to expand its overnight shelter capacity by 50 beds for adult men. The budget is not yet finalized, but officials expect the cost to be about $175,000 for the winter.

Truth Ministries typically has its guests pay a small fee and be sober in order to stay the night, but will waive those barriers for the winter, according to city staff.

If additional space for women becomes available elsewhere, a third phase of the city’s plan would include reusing the main floor at the House of Charity to shelter an additional 50 to 100 adult men.

The city had initially planned to have a new, permanent emergency homeless shelter open by July 1 to replace the more than 100 beds lost when it ended funding for a 24/7 shelter agreement with the House of Charity last year.

Monday’s slate of proposals marked the first significant progress on providing at least some level of shelter to the homeless since plans for a 120-bed shelter at the former Grocery Outlet Building on East Sprague Avenue were abandoned earlier this year.

“We should have done this six months ago, but here we are. I support this 100 percent,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.

As winter weather began to arrive early, officials’ frustration reached its apex in late September, when the council balked at a proposal to name the Salvation Army the operator of a new shelter until the city presented a comprehensive plan.

The city remains in negotiation with the Salvation Army to operate a shelter with capacity for 80 to 100 people at another location, Councilman Breean Beggs said.

The council accepted the proposal the following week, but not until after several council members and the mayor held dueling news conferences, laying the blame on each other for the city’s failure to open a new shelter.

Earlier this month, the man who spearheaded the city’s search for a new shelter abruptly resigned. Kelly Keenan, director of the city’s Community Housing, Health and Human Services department, left the job on Oct. 11. His replacement, interim director Tim Sigler, joined Tija Danzig, homeless services program manager, in presenting the city’s plan to the council on Monday.

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