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Facing pressure, Woodward now open to young adult homeless shelter in city limits

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

Facing pressure from local and state officials, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward may allow a new young adult homeless shelter to open within city limits.

Volunteers of America will look for a temporary building while plans for a long-term standalone shelter, likely in Spokane Valley, are developed, Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs announced Monday.

Under this multiphase approach, the interim shelter can be in the city of Spokane if the location is appropriate and adequate community outreach is done to the surrounding neighborhood. It would likely open in 2021 and remain in place until the permanent home is constructed, according to Beggs.

The agreement was made in a meeting of city, county and Spokane Valley leaders last week.

“For the first time in several weeks, if not months, everyone’s going in the same direction and the operator, Volunteers of America, is now steering the bus on this, which is the main thing because they’re the subject matter experts,” Beggs said.

Fawn Schott, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, described leaving last week’s meeting of regional leaders “feeling optimistic that we were at least in a space where we could, in a calculated way, present locations for actual consideration.”

Previously, Woodward had refused to allow a proposed young adult shelter to open within the city’s borders, citing the existing density of homelessness services in the city of Spokane.

Facing pressure from the City Council and state Commerce Department, which provided funding for the shelter that expires at the end of 2021, Woodward relented.

“We wanted to be sure that all regional partners were at the table and that we didn’t lose this opportunity,” said Cupid Alexander, director of the city’s Neighborhoods, Housing, and Human Services division.

Woodward declined an interview with The Spokesman-Review, and a city spokeswoman directed questions to Alexander .

The administration is framing the plan not as a capitulation, but as a response to assured participation by the city’s regional partners in Spokane County and Spokane Valley and an outline of conditions for the shelter’s location.

“If it’s a regional conversation about housing, what do regional solutions look like? What we’ve seen is that a lot of the solutions have been located in the city of Spokane, and I think what you saw (last week) was the mayor and the council president outlining the conditions of use if the activation was going to happen,” Alexander said.

Now, Volunteers of America will look for a new space to temporarily house a young adult shelter based on its amenities, not in which city the building is located.

“It’s making sure that regardless of what side of the line, that the neighborhood is ready for it,” Beggs said Monday. “VOA has done that … they operate shelters and don’t seem to get complaints about them.”

Ideally, the location will be near the Spokane Community College campus, on their side of the Spokane and Spokane Valley border, Schott, VOA executive, said. The area has access to bus service and educational opportunities for young adults and is close to the future location for Volunteers of America’s new Crosswalk youth shelter on Mission Avenue.

“The border is not the problem, it’s how can we quickly get young people a pathway out of homelessness,” Schott said.

The nonprofit hopes to have a location secured by late summer 2021.

Volunteers of America is developing a plan to work with whatever neighborhood is selected as a location for the shelter.

“When we move in, we do really intentional community conversations, so we’ll have community forums,” Schott said. “We also ensure everybody in the neighborhood has our on-call number so if they have a problem or concern, they can (dial) our on-call number and reach somebody.”

While the search for an interim location continues, commerce department grant money will be used to fund beds for young adults at existing shelters, including Volunteers of America’s Hope House women’s shelter.

The city, along with its partners Spokane Valley and Spokane County, won a $2.7 million, three-year grant to fund the shelter earlier this year.

The three local governments have agreed on both the substantial need for a young adult shelter and an operator for it in Volunteers of America. The shelter will aim to meet the unique needs of young adults who are homeless, many of whom are aging out of the foster care system.

“We have to consider (homelessness) prevention for young adults. They’re quick to get out of homelessness, they’re quick to resolve, but they need space to be able to do that instead of getting entrenched in a chronic situation,” Schott said.

But, thus far, they have been unable to find a location for the shelter.

Woodward, calling for more contribution from the city’s regional partners, initially insisted it be located outside the city.

Ultimately, in a third phase of its plans, Volunteers of America envisions using federal tax credits to fund a standalone shelter similar to the Crosswalk youth shelter and Hope House women’s shelter it already operates.

Spokane Valley has expressed willingness to host the shelter, but officials there say the zoning laws need to be reworked to allow for a young adult shelter. That process would take at least several months, if not more than a year.

Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick did not return a request for comment.

The grant was awarded through the Department of Commerce and must be used before the end of the year, though city officials have applied for an extension. Washington Commerce Director Lisa Brown was among those who urged Woodward to reverse course and allow a shelter within city limits.

As recently as last Tuesday, Woodward gave no indication she would allow a young adult shelter in Spokane. She told The Spokesman-Review in an interview that she wants a shelter for young adults, but believes it should be located in Spokane Valley.

Woodward touted her administration’s collaboration with regional partners, including on a new “bridge” housing shelter that is set to open on Mission Avenue next year.

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