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News >  Spokane

Downtown Spokane library could become temporary homeless shelter, mayor says

UPDATED: Fri., March 20, 2020

The downtown Spokane Public Library, which is closed for two years for extensive renovations, is being considered for use as an emergency shelter for the homeless. Photographed Friday, Mar. 20, 2020. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The downtown Spokane Public Library, which is closed for two years for extensive renovations, is being considered for use as an emergency shelter for the homeless. Photographed Friday, Mar. 20, 2020. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

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The city could use the downtown Spokane Public Library as a temporary homeless shelter.

In an information session with regional leaders on Friday, Mayor Nadine Woodward announced that the first floor of the downtown library, which is closed for two years for renovations, could be repurposed as a shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our focus … right now is on our vulnerable population,” Woodward said.

Efforts to increase social distancing at existing shelters are expected to reduce citywide capacity by about 400 beds, or as much as 50%. Anticipating the reduction, city officials have been on the search for supplemental shelter sites for people experiencing homelessness. Simultaneously, officials are working to secure isolation and quarantine sites for people who have been diagnosed with or exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Of the $200 million authorized by the state legislature last week to fund the COVID-19 response throughout Washington, Spokane County expects to receive $1.4 million for housing and shelter from the Commerce Department.

Woodward said the city, which is spearheading the region’s homelessness efforts in response to the coronavirus, will receive and direct the funds.

“We’ll be using those (funds) right away to get staff in place,” Woodward said.

As a candidate for mayor last year, Woodward stirred controversy by stating she was open to the possibility that homeless people be banned from the downtown library.

Social distancing in shelters

Catholic Charities, which operates the House of Charity shelter in downtown Spokane, was one of many service providers planning to implement social distancing measures this week.

City staff have been working with shelters to follow public health guidelines issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including separating beds by at least 6 feet and allowing fewer than 50 people in a single room at any given moment.

The House of Charity typically takes in both male and female guests, although they sleep separately. Now, women will be relocated to common areas at the Donna Hanson Haven and Jacklin Haven buildings, both of which are permanent supportive housing projects operated by Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities is continuing to provide breakfast and lunch to people experiencing homelessness but is having them dine outside.

Sharon Stadelman, vice president of crisis response at Catholic Charities, said in a statement on Thursday that she is “incredibly proud” of the collaborative effort to establish two temporary locations for women’s shelter “in less than 24 hours.”

“We will continue to work in partnership with SRHD (the Spokane Regional Health District) to implement COVID-19 guidelines as they arise,” Stadelman said.

Family Promise has suspended its Bridges program, a shelter that rotates through local churches, and relocated its guests into the Open Doors emergency shelter. The most at-risk families are staying at Family Promise’s Hartson Avenue offices, which have been repurposed into a temporary 24/7 shelter.

Although the move reduced capacity, Family Promise did not have to kick anybody out because it had recently helped several of its guests find permanent housing.

The nonprofit is searching for recreational vehicles and trailers that could used to isolate or quarantine a family that has been impacted by COVID-19 if necessary, said Joe Ader, executive director of Family Promise.

“We want to be realistic, but we also want to spread hope,” Ader said. “In this time, we really feel it’s important to breathe hope into those who are in the most need. We’re trying to do that in every way we can with our families we help.”

Jewels Helping Hands, which operates the city’s warming center on Cannon Street, has seen a surge in use both during the daytime and overnight. It erected temporary tents, which were donated, outside its facility this week in preparation for overflow.

When social distancing measures are implemented, Jewels founder Julie Garcia estimated that overnight capacity would be reduced from nearly 100 beds to 40.

Union Gospel Mission has already implemented social distancing measures, which reduced its 186 available beds by 30.

Truth Ministries, an emergency shelter for men, typically sleeps between 80 and 85 clients per night. Social distancing measures will cut its capacity to about 40, but co-director Marty McKinney expressed confidence in the city’s ability to open supplemental shelter and noted “all of the shelters are communicating and working together, too.”

“We’re lucky. Spokane is pretty blessed that way,” McKinney said. “If something happens and we have an outbreak in the homeless sector, we’re going to be on it. It’s gonna tax us a little bit, but I think we’re gonna get through it.”

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