As local governments move forward with plans to launch a new shelter in the Emerson/Garfield Neighborhood, it is being met with opposition from some residents who fear its impacts on area businesses and public safety .
The shelter, to be located in the former Spokane Housing Authority headquarters at 55 W. Mission Ave., will be owned by the county, which voted last week to spend $1.3 million in federal COVID-19 aid funds to purchase the building and $700,000 to renovate it and an existing shelter on Cannon Street.
The Salvation Army is slated to begin operating the Mission Avenue shelter Aug. 14, when the contract the city has to operate a temporary shelter inside the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena expires. The Cannon Street shelter renovations are expected to be complete in November.
The Salvation Army is finalizing its contract with the city of Spokane, which oversees the contract process for the shelters.
During a Thursday meeting with neighborhood council leaders, neighbors and businesses around the shelter, Mayor Nadine Woodward stressed that the shelter will only operate as an overnight emergency facility temporarily and will change uses after the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will eventually become a “bridge” program shelter, where people will be in longer term programs, have caseworkers and work toward getting back into housing. They will also need a referral to stay there.
Some neighbors said they were still concerned about safety and their property values.
Damal Neil, an area resident, said Emerson/Garfield needs a community center, safe parks and a larger Spokane Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) building, not a new homeless shelter. He said some parks and restaurants already feel unsafe for him and his child because of the actions of some homeless people.
“Instead of bringing in businesses, high priority buildings, you’re going to bring in a homeless shelter that is going to put a stain – I’m sad to say this – a stain on our area,” he said. “People aren’t going to build high-rises or condos in this area if it’s right next a homeless shelter.”
Woodward also faced pushback from Spokane developer Chris Batten, who recently worked with several investors to purchase the Normandie Complex to build an “urban village” a few blocks from the new shelter site.
Batten said he was blindsided by the news, which led to the project being put on hold . He said he was worried that businesses near the shelter could see impacts similar those seen around the House of Charity and City Gate, where people congregate.
He argued homeless shelters, including the new shelter on Mission, needed to make a “good neighbor covenant” with property owners around them to ensure any impacts are addressed.
“The only way I think this could be salvageable is binding good neighbor agreements where we contractually agree as to what the expectations of everybody are,” he said.
Others who did not have a chance to share their questions and concerns with Woodward directly wrote in the meeting’s group chat that they feared elderly people staying at a nearby adult care home could be negatively impacted, while others called for a vote on the new shelter or a community campaign against it.
Woodward said the shelter may help with those issues because it is a part of a longer-term, regional solution to homelessness.
“We are turning lives around with the bridge housing facility,” she said. “You have homeless in your neighborhood, and we are helping the homeless in your neighborhood by changing their lives.”
Woodward said the Salvation Army would help the shelter transition to its eventual purpose, getting people out of homelessness and into housing. She said the Salvation Army is already offering many of the programs the shelter will provide once pandemic social-distancing requirements are relaxed.
“We’re very very happy to have them on board,” she said.
City Spokesman Brian Coddington said the Salvation Army was chosen by a committee that included staff from the Spokane Regional Health District, Spokane County, the city of Spokane and Spokane Valley. He said the financial contributions from different governments to the operations of the new shelter have not been finalized .
Maj. Ken Perrine, leader of the Spokane Salvation Army, said the city included costs for a security team in its budget and that it would have a public safety team patrol around the shelter and in the nearby neighborhood. He said the shelter would also not allow people to loiter, would have a curfew and would encourage people to move on if they are not staying at the shelter.
“Our goal is to always help people move forward as well as be a good neighbor,” he said.
In addition to the Salvation Army’s security team, Coddington said there would be extra police presence in that area as well. He added that there would soon also be weekly meetings with neighbors so they are able to air their concerns going forward.
Coddington said it is not known when the shelter will transition from serving as an emergency COVID-19 overnight shelter to bridge housing.
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