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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Arena slated to become homeless shelter pending City Council approval

UPDATED: Wed., May 13, 2020

The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, seen from the air March 11, 2014, will serve as the city’s next temporary homeless shelter. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, seen from the air March 11, 2014, will serve as the city’s next temporary homeless shelter. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Adam Shanks and Jared Brown The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena is slated to become Spokane’s next homeless shelter when the Guardians Foundation vacates the downtown Spokane Public Library and Cannon Street shelters on Saturday, according to Guardians CEO Mike Shaw.

Shaw said the Spokane Public Facilities District, which runs the arena, agreed to a proposal from Mayor Nadine Woodward for a 90-day stay on Tuesday.

City spokesperson Brian Coddington did not confirm the agreement but said the city and its partners will make an announcement about regional shelter space on Thursday.

City Council President Breean Beggs said Woodward requested a special meeting for Thursday morning for the council to consider a lease agreement for a new shelter site, but he was not informed about potential locations.

The agenda for the special meeting lists a contract approval for a lease with the Public Facilities District.

Shaw said the Guardians plan to move 110 individuals, bedding and other supplies from the Cannon Street and downtown library shelters after breakfast on Saturday and to have a new, approximately 7,500-square-foot space ready at the arena in the evening. The area is behind the bleachers where Zambonis are stored, and it is equipped with bathrooms and showers.

“It’s an ideal temporary spot,” said Shaw, who wasn’t privy to what other facilities were under consideration. “It’s a blank slate right now.”

Shaw said there are plans to install interior partitions and more security cameras, as well as fencing to allow for only one access point to the shelter space at North Lincoln Street. He said he plans to meet with new neighbors, such as the Flour Mill and David’s Pizza, to address their concerns.

The City Council will also consider Thursday a contract with Spokane County for a lease on another facility for people who are experiencing homelessness.

The Spokane County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to allow Chairman Al French to enter into a contract with the city of Spokane to allow a homeless shelter at a county-owned building at 312 W. 8th Ave.

Together, the two new shelters will serve as the cornerstone of the region’s homelessness response through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the auspices of the Emergency Operations Center, the region selected three service providers to fund, for an estimated 90 days, continued shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the Guardians Foundation, Catholic Charities and City Gate.

The monthly cost of the shelter program is estimated at about $182,000, according to a list of funding recommendations made by local officials earlier this month. That does not include the cost of the buildings themselves.

The service providers responded to a request for proposals issued by the city of Spokane in April. A regional committee established under the Emergency Operations Center reviewed the proposals.

According to the initial funding plan adopted by the EOC earlier this month, the shelter program is set to be funded through the remaining funds from a Department of Commerce emergency housing grant awarded to Spokane County in March and an Emergency Solutions Grant awarded by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.

Though funded regionally, the city of Spokane has inked contracts and spearheaded the shelter development process.

The money is not intended to create new or additional beds, but to fund providers who have had to expand due to new social distancing requirements ordered by the Spokane Regional Health District shortly after COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency.

In March, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz implemented a new policy that guests at local shelters sleep at least 6 feet apart to limit potential exposure to the virus.

The social distancing policy has been part of an effective response to protect Spokane’s homeless community from COVID-19, but it reduced capacity at existing shelters by about 50%.

Regional officials scrambled to convert the downtown Spokane Public Library into two temporary shelters in March. One half of the building was operated by the Hope House and accepted adult women, while the other was operated by Jewels Helping Hands until April 30. Then, when Jewels’ contract with the city of Spokane expired, the Guardians Foundation took over operation of the shelter for adult men and women.

Officials were forced to find a longer-term solution as restrictions on construction were lifted last month. When the pandemic struck, the Spokane Public Library downtown had already been closed in preparation for a two-year renovation, which will now commence as planned.

Shaw said the Cannon Street shelter will become a daytime facility when the Guardians leave.

He also lamented the impermanence of the Spokane Arena site, even with a 90-day agreement in place.

“If someone has got solutions, please step up to the plate,” he said. “Here in 2 1/2 months we’re going to be faced with another move of some sort.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Rebecca White contributed to this report.

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