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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

As winter approaches, city pledges to take action on homeless shelter

A homeless person cuddles with a dog outside the Cannon Street shelter last March in Spokane. The city is trying to find more property for homeless shelters before the arrival of this winter. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A homeless person cuddles with a dog outside the Cannon Street shelter last March in Spokane. The city is trying to find more property for homeless shelters before the arrival of this winter. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The city of Spokane could submit offers on property for one or more new emergency homeless shelters this week.

As temperatures begin to drop, the city is being forced to move quickly to open new shelter space or face another year of scrambling to open temporary warming centers to serve the homeless.

“We know that the cold weather is approaching and we need to have options that we can act on,” said Kelly Keenan, director of Spokane Community, Housing and Human Services. “We’re looking at a lot of those options very seriously, including ones that we’ll be putting offers on this week.”

Even after the city identifies a location for a shelter, it will take several weeks to get it staffed and ready for a baseline level of operation. Any new shelter will probably open with temporary services before long-term, permanent services are installed.

“We’re feeling like we have a number of weeks here ahead of us where we need a lot of things to fall into place,” Keenan said.

Sites still under consideration from the city include the former Grocery Outlet on East Sprague Avenue and the Daybreak Youth Services building on East Third Avenue.

Keenan briefed members of the Spokane City Council – and answered an array of questions – on the city’s ongoing shelter search during a Public Safety and Community Health Committee meeting on Monday.

The city has moved toward opening smaller-scale, targeted-capacity shelters since it ceased funding a 24/7 shelter at the House of Charity last year.

After several months of searching, the city announced earlier this summer that it planned to open a 120-bed emergency shelter for adults at the former Grocery Outlet store near the corner of East Sprague Avenue and Havana Street.

The City Council authorized a $50,000 earnest payment that allowed the city to enter into a $1.8 million purchase and sale agreement on the property and begin to study its feasibility as a homeless shelter.

But the proposal met stiff opposition from neighbors, including the adjacent nonprofit Project ID, which provides services to adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. It also envisioned the facility as a regional partnership with Spokane County and the city of Spokane Valley, but has failed to win commitments from either jurisdiction.

The city remains under contract on the Grocery Outlet property, but has identified a “parallel path” that would allow it to move forward without regional partners, according to Keenan. Despite the new approach, he told members of the City Council that the city continues to pursue partnership with Spokane Valley and the county.

“We’re fully invested in continuing to try to push that process forward,” Keenan said.

Keenan said the city will provide a set of written answers this week to many of the questions posed by its potential regional partners, which included requests for details about the proposed shelter’s operation and cost.

“We don’t have the building, we don’t have the operator, so I just want to acknowledge that publicly,” said council member Breean Beggs, who added he wanted to make sure “we’ve given them everything we can.”

Instead of relying on a regional approach, the Daybreak Youth Services building could provide the city with an option to go it alone in the near-term. The building would have a capacity of about 60 to 70 beds, which could be supplemented with beds at one or more additional sites.

The city is looking at opportunities to lease, instead of outright buy, several of the properties that it is considering for a shelter.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he had met with the owner of the adjacent Car Mart business to discuss the Daybreak site and advocated for fencing and cameras between the properties.

“If we choose any site, we need to be proactive,” Stuckart said.

Keenan said with any location, the city is aware that it needs to have a “relatively robust security model,” Keenan said.

“If we’re going to have additional shelters, they have to be able to coexist with the community,” Keenan said.

Meanwhile, the city continues to negotiate a contract with the Salvation Army to operate one or more new shelters. The Salvation Army was selected over two other applicants following a request for proposals that the city issued in June.

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