As Spokane officials scramble to identify a location for a new homeless shelter before winter weather sets in, city leaders fear they will once again have to rely on temporary warming centers this winter.
For months, leaders in the city, Spokane Valley and Spokane County pushed forward with a plan to open a new emergency homeless shelter in the former Grocery Outlet store on East Sprague Avenue. But those plans recently stalled, and city officials have signaled that a new location in the Daybreak Youth Services building at the intersection of Arthur Street and East 3rd Avenue may be preferable.
The city could present a proposal as early as next week to the Public Health & Safety Committee, but has yet to make a formal offer on the Daybreak property.
The change in course comes as the city rushes to open more shelter space before winter, as neighborhood opposition to the proposal remains strong, and as its partners in Spokane Valley and Spokane County hesitate to sign on to funding an East Sprague shelter site before their questions about its operation are answered.
Without sufficient shelter capacity, the city could be forced to once again rely on a network of temporary warming centers for the homeless, as it did last year.
“I don’t know what’s going to be ready when it gets cold out, and it worries me,” said Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who is running for mayor.
Whether the city will issue a request for proposals for temporary warming centers depends on a number of variables, according to city spokeswoman Kirstin Davis.
“Depending on what happens, it may be a combination of a facility and emergency (warming centers),” Davis said. “Depending on what comes to fruition and what gets done in the time, we need to get it done.”
The council has been ready to fund a new shelter all year, but “the mayor has failed,” Stuckart said.
“I feel like we’re back in the same situation that we were last year. Staff works really hard, but there’s not enough. That department hasn’t been properly staffed and the mayor has not made this a priority,” Stuckart alleged.
Mayor David Condon did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Councilman Breean Beggs, along with Stuckart, called on the city to dedicate more staffing and resources to opening a new shelter ahead of winter.
“Without enough staff on it, it creates an artificial crisis,” said Beggs, who is running for City Council president. “It seems to me that it should be one of the top priorities of city government right now, to identify locations.”
Daybreak relocated its outpatient counseling services following the launch of a marijuana growing facility at the former Costco next door, but the 3rd Avenue building is still used for administrative offices, according to Daybreak CFO Rich Reathaford.
“We have not seen, nor entertained, nor accepted any offers at this point,” Reathaford said. “(That’s) not to say one isn’t coming, but we have yet to see an offer from any prospective buyer, the city included.”
Those that have expressed interest in the property since it was listed for sale about a month ago include a brewery, a church and the city, Reathaford said.
The Daybreak option is one of several still under consideration by the city, including the former Grocery Outlet building.
Daybreak offers proximity to the EnVision Center, which houses a number of social services, but is not as close to the Spokane Valley border as the East Sprague site.
“It has a lot of beneficial attributes and would be more feasible for the city to proceed on its own. Working regionally is very important, but takes more time, and we have now entered September. So far, we have reached no deal to present to on that location,” Davis said.
Earlier this year, the city unveiled plans to buy the former Grocery Outlet store at 4210 E. Sprague Ave. for $1.8 million and renovate the building into a 24/7 emergency shelter for the homeless.
Nestled next to the border with Spokane Valley, the city envisioned the facility as a regionally-funded shelter that would eventually include a variety of social services to assist its guests in obtaining more permanent housing.
The city has been on the hunt for a new shelter since Catholic Charities stopped operating a 24/7 shelter and reduced the available number of beds at the House of Charity shelter.
Catholic Charities says the city lost 115 beds for adult men on Sept. 1, 2018. The city had originally committed to opening a new facility by July 1.
Beggs said it’s important to find a way to fill that gap.
“We essentially need to replace those unless we want to experience what we did last winter, which was not acceptable,” Beggs said. “We did save lives but we didn’t really advance people.”
On July 1, the Spokane City Council approved a $50,000 earnest payment that enabled the city to move forward with a purchase and sale agreement on the East Sprague property, but it quickly became divisive.
Last month, two members of the Spokane City Council told The Spokesman-Review that they had doubts about the proposed shelter on East Sprague, the final purchase of which would require the council’s approval.
The proposal also met robust opposition during a public meeting in July.
The pushback was strong from its neighbors in the East Central area, but most acute from supporters of the adjacent nonprofit Project ID, which provides services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The opposition expressed about this location has elected officials at both the city and county asking additional questions about this site. That made it prudent for (Community, Housing and Human Services) to seek out other options,” Davis said.
Though she acknowledged the benefit of having a potential emergency shelter closer to social services, Councilwoman Kate Burke criticized a “lack of leadership” in addressing the issue and said it’s a “way bigger waste of money” to fund temporary warming centers in place of emergency shelters.
“Why has this taken so long? We started this conversation over a year ago,” Burke said.
The Daybreak option may not provide the capacity the city needs, Beggs said.
“It seems like a good location to me, based on my recollection of having driven by there before, but we’re going to need more than that,” Beggs said.
City officials acknowledged that providing sufficient emergency shelter space may require multiple locations that service different populations, such as adults and young adults.
“City staff have been making visits to several places over many months as real estate opportunities present themselves. The goal is to have services for up to 120 people,” Davis said.
Without adequate shelter space, the city will not be able to enforce its sit-lie law, which prohibits people from sitting or sleeping on downtown sidewalks during the day. Last year, the city council suspended the ordinance despite opposition from Condon.
Stuckart said that the council does not need to take a vote to suspend the ordinance this year, per the advice of city attorneys.
“I don’t think there’s any need to suspend it, they just can’t enforce it,” Stuckart said.
City council members have said the money is available and the council is ready to sign off on a shelter. The city is about $2 million above its projected revenues and $2 million below its expected expenses for the current fiscal year, Beggs noted.
“In the middle of a crisis, we can devote money, if we are provided opportunities and contracts to do this,” Beggs said. “We will do what it takes to solve this problem, we will give you the money that you need if you give us a proposal.”
Following a request for proposals, the city announced in August that it had selected the Salvation Army to operate the new shelter, despite not having a site locked down.
The Salvation Army has not operated such a shelter in Spokane, but did open an emergency warming center earlier this year. The city is in negotiations on a contract with the Salvation Army.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.