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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane agrees to buy building for warming shelter, hopes to open next month

The Cannon Street shelter is a 24/7 gathering place for the homeless. The Spokane City Council agreed to buy the building for $415,000 on Thursday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council agreed on Thursday to buy for $415,000 a building near Browne’s Addition intended to be used as a winter warming shelter for 120 people.

The decision to buy the 5,100-square-foot former storage warehouse at 527 S. Cannon St. was unanimous and based on the recommendation of Mayor David Condon’s administration.

The choice of who would operate the center was approved on a 6-1 vote. Only City Councilman Mike Fagan opposed the $740,000 agreement with local nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands.

Officials said the low-barrier shelter, intended to provide emergency housing for the city’s homeless population, should be open with limited services within two weeks.

The majority of the council praised Jewels Helping Hands, which provided meals and clothing to homeless last winter and provided services the city did not.

“I’m confident that they not only have the skills to do it, but the actual consistency and the relationship-building with the people who are experiencing homelessness,” said City Councilwoman Kate Burke.

Fagan said he didn’t know whether the nonprofit, which formed in June, had the expertise needed to run a large warming center safely. He also said he believed the group had links “to the same individuals who do not show me any respect in the council chambers,” noting that he didn’t want the decision to be “political.”

“We’re talking about lives, No. 1,” Fagan said. “And the amount of this contract is about three-quarters of a million bucks.”

Burke’s colleagues defended the nonprofit, which won the contract through a bidding process.

“What we couldn’t do, it feels like, Jewels Helping Hands was out there early on, at least keeping people warm and fed,” said City Councilwoman Karen Stratton.

The purchase and operating contracts allow Jewels Helping Hands to begin work toward opening the facility – which is expected to be open seven days a week and collect data that will be used in developing future homeless services for the city – within the next couple of weeks. The building needs some plumbing improvements, according to the city.

“We’re going to do our best to work with them,” Tim Sigler, who’s serving as interim director of the city’s Community Housing, Health and Human Services department, told the council. “It’s not going to be fully operational in two weeks, but to have doors open with minimal services available.”

The real estate deal and operating agreement with Jewels Helping Hands was part of roughly $2 million in additional services the council approved Thursday, as overnight temperatures continue to plunge and city government faces potential changes with a municipal election Tuesday.

The council also approved agreements with Truth Ministries and Catholic Charities that are intended to increase nighttime shelter options for men and homeless families. The council also approved contracts with the Women’s Hearth program and Volunteers of America, the operators of Hope House, to provide expanded shelter hours for women seeking housing.

An additional $1 million was set aside out of reserves by the City Council to fund the warming shelter on Cannon Street and the operating agreement earlier this month.