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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council demands specifics before awarding $3 million for homeless shelter services

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 24, 2019

Salvation Army staff, left to right, Penny Bryngelson, Kaitlyn Shannon and Isreal Jones, fold clean blankets at a warming shelter in the National Furniture Store building on Jan. 15, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Salvation Army staff, left to right, Penny Bryngelson, Kaitlyn Shannon and Isreal Jones, fold clean blankets at a warming shelter in the National Furniture Store building on Jan. 15, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

An emotional and exasperated Spokane City Council delayed a proposal Monday night to select the Salvation Army as the provider at one or more new homeless shelters.

The council refused to empower the city to enter into a contract with the Salvation Army until the city clarifies its cost, which is estimated to be as much as $3.15 million for one year, and identifies a shelter site, for which several possibilities remain under consideration.

Monday’s vote was a stiff rebuke of the city’s approach to opening a new homeless shelter – an increasingly urgent need as winter weather approaches – under the leadership of Mayor David Condon.

“The administration has sat back and watched this slow down to a halt and here we sit. We all want the same thing, we all care about doing the right thing, and we’re all getting angry at each other because this is so frustrating,” said Councilwoman Karen Stratton.

The council will reconsider the proposal next Monday.

The terms of the proposed Salvation Army agreement are not expected to be finalized until Sept. 30, according to documents provided to the council ahead of Monday’s vote. The contract could be worth as much as $3.15 million, with $240,000 of already-budgeted funds used to launch one or more new shelter facilities.

The city asked the council to approve entering an agreement with the Salvation Army despite not having a location selected for one or more new shelters.

“What’s the plan?” asked Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

Members of the council have stated they are ready and willing to fund an emergency homeless shelter, but need the administration to come forward with a proposal.

In a news release issued prior to the vote on Monday, the city acknowledged that it likely will rely once again on temporary warming centers in lieu of adequate shelter space during the winter.

According to the city statement, “locations and service providers are on-deck to have available space for those in need and will be implemented as soon as possible.”

The Salvation Army proposal reflects the city’s new approach to the homeless crisis by offering targeted-capacity shelters aimed at specific demographics and coupling them with social services.

Last year, the city lost more than 100 beds when it ended its 24/7 shelter agreement with the House of Charity and has since been seeking to expand shelter capacity.

The Salvation Army proposal calls for the nonprofit to offer 60 beds of continuous stay, 24/7 shelter and 60 more beds of overnight-only emergency shelter at yet-to-be-determined locations.

The $3.15 million contract does not include an estimated $95,000 “to purchase stackable cots, long-life institutional mattresses, and endurance healthcare pillows for 120 people.” It also does not include the cost of actually purchasing a shelter and installing amenities like showers, restrooms, laundry facilities and any other necessary construction.

The agreement covers the cost of security and staffing, which would include supervisors, a chemical dependency counselor, case managers, a mental health counselor, an employment coach and cooks.

Councilman Breean Beggs advocated that the council revisit the issue every week until it is resolved.

The city issued a request for proposals in search of a service provider in June and received three responses. The Salvation Army, the Guardians Foundation, and Jewels Helping Hands made offers, but a review committee selected the Salvation Army, which operated a temporary warming center for the city last winter.

The Salvation Army has pledged to not discriminate based on gender or sexuality, but several community members expressed concern about the nonprofit Monday night.

Council President Ben Stuckart said the service contract was written to expressly state that it could not discriminate based on a number of factors, including gender identity.

But Councilwoman Kate Burke worried that there would not be a mechanism to enforce the nondiscrimination clause, and referred to complaints she’d heard from community members about their treatment at warming centers that went unresolved last winter.

The city had initially announced plans for a 120-bed shelter at the former Grocery Outlet store on East Sprague Avenue in July. But the $1.8 million site was chosen with the goal of receiving joint funding from Spokane County and Spokane Valley, which balked at offering money without more information about the shelter’s cost and operations.

Amid hesitance from Spokane Valley and the county, as well as an outpouring of opposition from East Sprague neighbors – including nonprofit Project ID – the city began to explore alternative sites. The purchase and sale agreement on the Grocery Outlet property has since expired.

Condon is unwilling to purchase a building for a new homeless shelter before he leaves office, Stuckart said. The city is now approaching property owners in search of a lease.

“This is the stuff you lose sleep over,” Stratton said.

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