Following a week of political frustration and finger-pointing, the Spokane City Council approved the first step Monday in the city’s plan to address emergency homeless shelters.
The council voted to give city staff its blessing to negotiate a contract with the Salvation Army to operate one or more emergency homeless shelters.
It was a mark of movement since last week, when the council temporarily delayed the proposal to name the Salvation Army a provider until Mayor David Condon’s administration unveiled a clearer plan to shelter the city’s homeless population through the winter and beyond. That sparked the ire of Condon, who accused the council of “political theater” in a subsequent news conference.
Monday’s vote was not on an actual contract, but solidified the council’s backing for the nonprofit as the city aims to finalize the details of an agreement.
The administration’s filing last week did not provide details of the contract, but the operational cost of two shelters was estimated to be up to $3.15 million. Before voting on the proposal to enter into an agreement with the Salvation Army, the council voted to strike that number from the document to avoid confusion and clarify that Monday’s action only approved the Salvation Army as a provider – it did not ratify a contract or fund the shelter’s operation.
When it is eventually presented with firm details by the administration, the council still must take a vote on the final contracts with operators, lease agreements on shelter spaces, and the emergency budget ordinances needed to fund them, according to Council President Ben Stuckart.
After balking last week, council members expressed a willingness to approve the Salvation Army proposal on Monday in part because the city has made progress on its plans to provide shelter to those experiencing homelessness, including identifying Jewels Helping Hands as the operator of a temporary warming center.
Though he did not disclose their locations, Stuckart said the city is close to finalizing agreements and locations for a shelter operated by the Salvation Army and a temporary warming center operated over the winter by Jewels Helping Hands.
“I’ve seen a lot of movement in the last week and I’m comfortable with everything that’s moving forward, and this is just one step in the process,” Stuckart said.
The city’s current plans call for the Salvation Army to operate a 60-bed emergency homeless shelter as soon as the city can identify and secure a location for one. That shelter would operate 24/7 and be supplemented by up to two temporary warming centers, which would have a total capacity for 150 people.
The first temporary warming center would be operated by Jewels Helping Hands, according to Stuckart.
Council member Kate Burke cast the lone vote against the proposal on Monday, noting that the council still hasn’t seen the specifics of the administration’s plan, particularly in regards to location of the shelter and its precise cost.
“I do not want to pass something without having a location we know of,” Burke said.
The city presented the Salvation Army request last week before having locations for either a shelter or warming center because it would enable the nonprofit to begin hiring and training staff to operate the future shelter, the administration argued.
In a news conference following the council’s delay last week, four council members introduced a resolution that urged Condon to identify a new shelter location and pledged to use city reserves to fund its opening.
The resolution was unanimously approved by the council on Monday.
“Council can put forward all of the money we have, but it’s not getting done…by charter, we can’t direct staff to do things,” Stuckart said.
Eventually, the city plans to have a second shelter location, which would also contain 60 beds and be operated by the Salvation Army, but remain open only overnight.
The estimated cost of the continuous stay shelter is $2,594,000 annually, while the overnight shelter would cost $558,000. Those estimates do not include the potential cost of remodeling the shelter space and installing basics such as bathrooms, lockers and cots.
Monday’s vote followed a weekend that saw the city scramble to provide services to the homeless during unseasonably cold temperatures, including striking a deal with Union Gospel Mission to temporarily loosen its rules that require sobriety in order to stay at its shelter. The men’s shelter typically conducts drug or alcohol testing to anyone who appears intoxicated or high.
The shelter did not reach capacity, despite the cold weather, which typically drives more people to seek services.
“We had a good crowd, but it was manageable,” said Dave Wall, Union Gospel Mission’s community engagement director.
Increasing shelter capacity has been at the core of the city’s plan to address homelessness since it ended funding for 24/7 shelter at the House of Charity more than a year ago, which resulted in the reduction of more than 100 beds.
Condon’s administration has called for opening smaller, targeted-capacity shelters aimed at specific demographics.
The Salvation Army was selected as the shelter operator out of three applicants following a request for proposals earlier this year.
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