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Proposed council resolution would rebuke Woodward, call for young adult shelter in Spokane

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 3, 2020

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Mayor Nadine Woodward’s decision to prevent a teen homeless shelter from opening in Spokane is getting pushback from the Spokane City Council.

The council is contemplating a resolution that would implore Woodward to reverse course. The resolution would be nonbinding, but would amount to a public rebuke of the mayor’s position.

Woodward sidelined plans for a new, regional young adult shelter last month by refusing to allow it to be located inside Spokane city limits.

“The city should promptly purchase an appropriate building for the standalone young adult shelter as recommended by the proposed operator,” the proposed resolution states.

The young adult shelter, a joint effort among the city, Spokane County and Spokane Valley, was set to be funded with a three-year, $2.7 million grant awarded by the state Department of Commerce earlier this year.

But Woodward demanded it be located outside the city, arguing it’s time the city’s regional partners in the effort – Spokane County and Spokane Valley – host homeless services within their borders.

That derailed the plans, which called for a 40-to-50-bed shelter to be operated by Volunteers of America. The nonprofit, which operates the Crosswalk shelter for teens in Spokane, proposed multiple locations for a young adult shelter in Spokane it believed were viable.

Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick has said his city is willing to consider having a young adult shelter inside its borders. But the Valley’s zoning laws are strict and would require revision – a monthslong process – before a shelter is sited.

In the meantime, the grant is set to expire if unused by the end of the year.

To avoid allowing the funding to disappear, Woodward’s administration has said it will be used to fund beds designated for young adults at existing shelters.

In a letter to the City Council and Woodward on Thursday, State Commerce Director Lisa Brown expressed dismay with the mayor’s decision, though she did not threaten to pull funding.

“Directing young people to adult shelters is not an adequate solution,” she wrote.

Brown, a former state senator from Spokane, argued that young adults would benefit from being located near the social services within the city.

“Political boundaries are invisible to young people who have no home because they’ve been kicked out, fled abusive relationships, exited foster care, or simply cannot afford rent,” Brown wrote.

Woodward’s administration and the City Council agree that there is a substantial need to serve young adults experiencing homelessness.

The region does not have a homeless shelter dedicated to serving young adults, a demographic with a unique set of needs.

“I think we need a youth shelter in Spokane and Spokane Valley, I don’t think it should be an either/or. Our youth need is so much,” said Councilwoman Candace Mumm during a council study session on Thursday.

Brain Coddington, a spokesman for the Woodward administration, said it wanted to take the time to “get this right the first time and not have to move people all over the place.

“Everybody’s preference is that we find a regional solution to a standalone young adult shelter space,” Coddington said.

But Woodward’s position is that the city already has borne a disproportionate burden when it comes to homeless services, and that plans to build another shelter in Spokane “created additional density” of such services in the city, Coddington said.

He claimed that Woodward’s plan does not put the state funding at risk, and said the city has requested a 90-day deadline extension from the Department of Commerce.

The city has yet to tap into the money to fund beds at existing shelters, but it plans to “find additional space that would be separate enough to keep the two populations from being commingled,” Coddington said, referring to adults and young adults.

The resolution notes that the council initially signed off on the purchase of the city’s warming center on Cannon Street last year under the assumption that it eventually would be converted into a young adult shelter.

Those plans have since changed. Now, the city plans to use the Cannon Street building as a 24/7 warming center during the cold months and a day shelter with homeless services during warmer weather.

The resolution remains in draft form and is expected to come to a vote on Dec. 14.

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