A key leader in the city of Spokane’s response to homelessness quietly departed last month.
Tija Danzig, a senior manager in the city’s Community Housing and Human Services Department, left the city to accept a job at the nonprofit Americares, leaving a hole in a department that already had a reputation for being heavily relied upon by the city.
Danzig had been with the city since 2017 and played a key role in numerous efforts to combat homelessness, such as the Point in Time Count, an annual census of the area’s homeless population.
Through the coronavirus pandemic, she was instrumental in ensuring the continued operation of shelters, which were strained as they adjusted to social distancing requirements.
David Lewis, the city’s Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) program director, will fill in for Danzig on a temporary basis while the city recruits for the position, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington.
In an email to The Spokesman-Review, Danzig described her decision to leave the city as difficult.
“I believe in the mission and in our potential as a community to really serve and support people experiencing homelessness so that homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring,” Danzig said. “I have a profound respect for this work.”
In her new job, Danzig will lead a project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that aims to address vaccine hesitancy in health care workers at free and charitable clinics and federally qualified health centers.
“I hope I never see another pandemic like this in my lifetime, but I am honored to be able to take on this role and to try and make our country a little safer for everyone,” Danzig said. “In this way, I am still supporting Spokane and the people I have been serving for the last four years.”
Danzig’s departure comes at a critical time as the city and other local governments, including Spokane Valley and Spokane County, feel out the path toward a truly regional homeless services system in a post-COVID world.
The city, county and Spokane Valley have long struggled over how to address homelessness, but Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration believes the pandemic forced a level of collaboration between governments that portends improved services down the line.
The Salvation Army’s Way Out shelter on West Mission Avenue – purchased by Spokane County with federal coronavirus aid – is expected to transition into a “bridge” shelter. Under the model, which is new to the city, the shelter will serve people only by referral who are deemed ready to move out of homelessness and into permanent housing.
The city also plans to adapt its winter warming center on Cannon Street to operate year-round. The building will continue to operate 24/7 during the winter, when shelter capacity is typically stretched thin, but will operate as a day shelter replete with services during the warmer months.
“The planning for the next year has already started … there’s not really a downtime in that department,” Coddington said.
But it’s that exhausting schedule that has some city officials concerned.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton told The Spokesman-Review that she was “devastated” by Danzig’s departure.
“They need more people to do the work,” Stratton said.
The CHHS department, now led by Timothy Sigler, has seen numerous changes in personnel in recent years, including four directors since 2016.
Now, the department falls under the Neighborhoods, Housing, and Human Services division created by Woodward’s administration. She appointed Cupid Alexander to helm the division last November.
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