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City to open Cannon Street warming center this week

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 16, 2020

LeRoy Phillips, left, and Bill Penick, of Paint Crafters, work to scarifying the concrete floor of a new sleeping area at the Cannon Street shelter, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
LeRoy Phillips, left, and Bill Penick, of Paint Crafters, work to scarifying the concrete floor of a new sleeping area at the Cannon Street shelter, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The city’s warming center on Cannon Street is expected to reopen by the end of the week.

After extensive repairs, Mayor Nadine Woodward announced Monday that the city-owned shelter is about ready to accommodate up to 60 overnight guests.

The shelter will be operated through the winter and spring of 2021 by The Guardians Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has previously managed shelters on the city’s behalf, including the Cannon Street facility.

The Guardians also operated a temporary emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic at the downtown Spokane Public Library, then at the Spokane Arena earlier this year.

Funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was used to pay for construction inside the shelter, a threadbare building that has been used in previous winters but never fully renovated.

Work on the renovation was delayed due to COVID-19 and unanticipated problems in the building.

The building was “pretty much rebuilt, restabilized,” Woodward said, and it will open as shelter operators continue to stretch themselves thin to provide socially distanced accommodations to their guests.

Only two of the Cannon Street shelter’s three bays will open initially. The third bay will remain under construction for about three weeks. Once ready, it will include new bathroom and laundry facilities, as well as more room for additional beds.

Until then, the shelter’s 60 guests will use portable toilets and a portable trailer with six showers inside. The city will pay The Guardians Foundation $750,000 to operate the shelter until June 2021.

The shelter’s opening coincides with increasing concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 among people who are homeless. Last week, officials from the Spokane Regional Health District warned the Spokane City Council that recent increases in COVID-19 cases in local shelters will likely continue.

After June 2021, the city aims to strike an agreement with Spokane Valley and Spokane County to fund the shelter’s operation year round – in the winter as an overnight warming center and in the summer as a day shelter.

In the summer, the shelter will allow people to charge their electronic devices, take showers and connect with social service providers.

“This is what’s exciting for many of us, that we’re going to have an operator there 12 months out of the year,” Woodward said.

The funding for the shelter has yet to be worked out, but Woodward said regional leaders continue to meet and negotiate.

The COVID pandemic has brought the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley and Spokane County together to address homelessness collaboratively in a way they had not previously, Woodward noted.

“Our homelessness is not just a city of Spokane issue, it is a regional issue,” Woodward said.

The Cannon Street shelter will be low barrier, a type of easily accessible shelter that Woodward criticized during her campaign for mayor.

On Monday, Woodward said the city’s current plans have “a lot of differences” from those she criticized before taking office, such as the abandoned 2019 proposal for a regional homeless shelter on East Sprague Avenue.

Woodward said her administration has taken a more inclusive approach with the city’s neighbors. The Cannon Street shelter is envisioned as an entry point to stabilize people and provide “an opportunity to access help.”

From there, a person could be referred to a regional “bridge” housing program operated by The Salvation Army on West Mission Avenue.

The shelter – currently used as an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic – would connect people with services that can help them find employment and permanent housing.

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