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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City announces temporary shelter in Spokane Convention Center as dangerous cold approaches

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 23, 2021

Luna Klemp, 28, shows off her space heater Thursday outside her tent at the site of a homeless camp near at the corner of Second Avenue and Ray Street.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Luna Klemp, 28, shows off her space heater Thursday outside her tent at the site of a homeless camp near at the corner of Second Avenue and Ray Street. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The city of Spokane will open a 24/7 homeless shelter in the Spokane Convention Center on Sunday in preparation for bitter cold weather next week.

The temporary shelter will open at noon Sunday and is expected to remain in operation until Jan. 2, although that could change depending on the weather forecast.

The National Weather Service is predicting high temperatures will remain below freezing through at least Wednesday, with overnight lows dropping to about 0 degrees starting Monday night.

The Convention Center shelter will be open to men and women and will allow animals. It will be operated by the Guardians Foundation, which also operates the city-owned shelter on Cannon Street.

The network of shelters throughout the city will be strained by the demand brought by cold weather, which brings risk of hypothermia and frostbite to those who sleep outside.

Already, there were no low-barrier beds available in the city for adult women and couples Wednesday night, according to a city shelter capacity report. There were beds available for adult men and families.

The city has set aside funding to pay for up to 40 hotel rooms a night, but those were also full Wednesday.

Additional beds were available in shelters with barriers, such as a requirement that a guest be sober.

City law dictates when the city is required to open emergency shelters. The law was tweaked by the Spokane City Council in the wake of a deadly heat wave earlier this year, but also applies to cold snaps like the one forecast for next week.

The law requires the city to open additional shelter if the forecast calls for high temperatures to remain below freezing and existing low-barrier shelter beds are at least at 90% capacity.

“Extreme situations call for a compassionate community solution that brings people out of the elements,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a statement. “The city is fortunate to have built relationships with partners who are willing to meet emergent needs.”

The temporary shelter at the Spokane Convention Center, which will have capacity for up to 150 people and can be scaled up, will cost up to $100,000 to operate, according to the city’s estimate.

Meals will be provided for free on site.

Woodward touted the shelter system’s improvements heading into the winter. The city prepaid the typical $2 nightly charge for 40 beds at Truth Ministries, a shelter for men, to ensure free access for its guests. A new shelter for young adults operated by Volunteers of America is open, and the city locked down its contract with the Guardians to operate its shelter on Cannon Street around the clock.

But capacity quickly became an issue this winter.

In response, the administration requested and received funding last week to pay for up to 40 hotel rooms every night when shelters are full. Separately, the city added 19 temporary beds for families operated by Family Promise and guaranteed funding for 190 nights of hotel stays for women fleeing domestic violence at the YWCA.

Woodward has also proposed the city open a new, approximately $4.6 million low-barrier shelter somewhere outside of downtown.

The council approved $2.8 million in operational funding for the shelter in the city’s 2022 budget, and the cost of construction will likely be paid for with American Rescue Plan funding.

Advocates for the homeless and city officials have been in near perpetual disagreement about the availability of beds in local shelters, with the latter contending there are beds available every night and the former countering that beds are routinely unavailable for adult women and couples.

“The space that the advocates are calling for has been added consistently over the last several months and several weeks,” city spokesman Brian Coddington said.

Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear criticized the city’s response to the upcoming cold weather, noting that winter comes every year.

“Waiting until the last minute is not OK, and that is why we put that ordinance in place, so we could plan. We could have done this in May. We could have done this in September,” Kinnear said.

Coddington countered that Woodward’s homelessness response, announced in 2020, is built on a shelter system that is consistent, predictable and flexible. The temporary shelter at the Convention Center is proof that the city’s response is indeed flexible, Coddington argued.

“The forecast happened just in the last couple of days, and everyone worked as quickly as they could to bring the plan into action,” Coddington said.

An encampment with approximately 80 people was established near Second Avenue and Freya Street last week. Jewels Helping Hands, a nonprofit that has maintained a presence at the encampment, warned Wednesday that many of the campers would be in danger if the city did not add shelter during the cold weather.

The Spokane Fire Department will conduct wellness checks on people outside in the cold weather, according to the city.

Donations of items like hats, gloves and nonperishable food can be brought to the city’s shelter on Cannon Street.

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