As Spokane prepares for what forecasters predict will be an unusually cold and snowy weekend, the Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter has suspended enforcement of its drug and alcohol policies to allow more people to stay, and the city has arranged for a backup shelter in a community center if there is a shortage of beds.
Saturday there is a 90% chance of snow, and Sunday there is a 70% chance of snow, said Rocco Pelatti, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Temperatures are anticipated to be lowest Tuesday, when they’re expected to dip to 26 degrees, but Saturday and Sunday will be in the 30s and could sink below freezing. Winds are also expected throughout the weekend, with gusts reaching 20 mph on Sunday.
Dave Wall, a Union Gospel Mission spokesman, said the shelter’s director, Phil Altmeyer, and Mayor David Condon had spoken and agreed UGM will not enforce its drug and alcohol policies while temperatures were below freezing. UGM normally requires patrons to pass a drug test before they can stay the night.
“If they’re presenting in a way that’s not safe, that would restrict them,” Wall said. “But for people who are not acting out … we’re going to let them stay regardless of their situation.”
If shelters across the city are still full, the city has arranged for a backup shelter in a community center that the Salvation Army will run.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Condon said the city wouldn’t announce where the backup shelter space is until it is needed. He said he wouldn’t know if it was needed until early Saturday morning and that the city was tracking how many people were using existing shelters. Over the last few days some shelters had space available, but that could change as temperatures drop and it begins to snow.
“At this point, it doesn’t look like we would need those,” Condon said. “But that’s why we wanted to make sure that they are available.”
The city planned to have a longer-term shelter opened by now, but it has not yet found a location. Condon said the city is continuing to work on a more permanent solution.
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said teams of firefighters, staff and social workers will go out from their neighborhood fire stations to check on people, especially those who are vulnerable and might be homebound. He said the city is working to make sure housed and unhoused vulnerable people have what they need to get through the cold weather.
Downtown and in areas where people frequently camp, teams of firefighters in smaller Alternative Response Units will ask people who appear to be staying outside to find shelter. If they don’t seek shelter, staff have prepared backpacks and blankets to hand out.
“We’ll try to help them as best as we can,” Schaeffer said.
Condon said people can call 311 for public works issues over the weekend and said staff will be available to address any issues caused by the storm.
Public Works Director Scott Simmons said the city already had plans in place with Avista to address winds and potentially falling trees, and snow resources will be available if they are needed. He anticipates that snow on streets will likely melt as soon as it falls, but city staff is prepared just in case.
Thunderstorms and showers are anticipated Friday night; there could be rain and snow in the mountains on Saturday. Forecasters at the National Weather Service anticipate there could be snow and the highest winds of the weekend on Sunday.
Monday is expected to be the first hard freeze of the season, and the cold is expected to continue into Tuesday.
If snow materializes, it will be the first time in 93 years that snow fell in Spokane in September. On September 23, 1926, it snowed 1.4 inches.
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