Another Spokane leader on homelessness has resigned, but the city promises there’s ‘not a concern that things will be missed’
Fri., Aug. 6, 2021
Another Spokane city official tasked with managing homeless services has left.
David Lewis, who worked for the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department for over a decade, has resigned and will leave at the end of August, the city announced this week.
Lewis is the latest experienced city employee who specializes in homelessness and housing – signature issues of Mayor Nadine Woodward’s short tenure in office – to jump ship.
Tija Danzig, a senior manager in the department, left for a job at a nonprofit in March. Her boss, Timothy Sigler, the department’s director, and his boss, Cupid Alexander, head of the division that encompasses the department, both resigned within a month of one another this summer.
Two more department employees announced their resignations in July.
Now, the department is more than one-third vacant.
Lewis is the administrator of Community Management Information System (CMIS), which relies on a web of service providers to compile data on housing and homelessness in Spokane. He has accepted a job outside City Hall, according to the city.
Kirstin Davis had been a city communications manager, but was promoted to acting deputy director of the Community, Housing and Human Services department amid the rapid turnover in leadership.
The department is budgeted to have 22 employees but has 14, including Lewis.
The city’s immediate approach is to bring on people who manage and specialize in the department’s programs. They must be hired through the Civil Service process, according to Davis. The city expects to get people working in those roles in four to six weeks.
The hiring process for the department director could take longer, but the job has already been posted and the city will begin reviewing applications on Aug. 16.
In the meantime, Davis said the department has to prioritize what work is assigned to the remaining employees, making sure that it keeps up with contracts and compliance requirements. Despite the staffing levels, Davis assured that there is “definitely not a concern that things will be missed.”
The city has also leaned on employees in other departments to help with tasks like accounting.
“We’re looking at any and every opportunity to process the work that needs to be done,” Davis said.
In terms of data reporting, Davis said Lewis “has a really strong individuals that he has prepared and we expect a very smooth transition there.”
Woodward tapped Chris Patterson, a former Housing and Urban Development official under the Trump administration, to come on as a special advisor in June and help navigate the future of the city’s housing and homeless services amid the exodus.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton was one of three Spokane City Council members to meet with Patterson last week.
Patterson laid out his plans to rebuild the Community, Housing and Human Services Department, and council members shared contacts with experience in the field, Stratton said.
“He seemed very thoughtful and committed to diving in and helping get that department up and running again … it gave me some hope,” Stratton said.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear was slightly less optimistic.
“There’s a culture here you have to get used to before you can make any headway. I’m not sure his expertise is in rebuilding departments as much as it is managing ones that are already in place,” Kinnear said, pointing to Patterson’s work as a regional administrator for HUD.
Kinnear also expressed doubt about the city’s ability to quickly fill positions with qualified employees.
“Rebuilding a department isn’t just waving a wand and hiring people, it’s about training … making sure that you’re following the rules and that you’re hiring people who can learn and grow in the position, not just be placeholders.”
It’s unclear why the department is facing such a high rate of turnover, but Davis noted the employees have gone on to other jobs. Lewis did not respond to an email requesting comment.
“This isn’t a position that we strive to be in by any stretch. The work, inherently, especially on the programming side, has a high level of burnout and a high level of intensity,” Davis said.
Stratton expressed concern about the culture within City Hall.
“I think this needs to be the eye opener, the symbol that we need to stop and start paying attention to the needs of employees, work environments, (and) expectations,” Stratton said.
The turnover in City Hall comes as the mayor looks to reshape the homeless services system in Spokane. The regionally funded bridge housing program is set to be opened by The Salvation Army this fall. The city’s Cannon Street shelter is expected to serve as a flexible space, with overnight beds available during inclement weather and social services available during the day year round.
The administration has faced mounting pressure from business and property owners to take a more aggressive approach to homelessness downtown.
That worries Stratton, particularly as the city is short-staffed.
“I’m feeling this huge, alarming push to do homeless sweeps, and start citing people and all of that, and that’s concerning to me because I think the city’s lost control of it and we don’t have people focusing on a permanent solution,” Stratton said.
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