Months after the concept was first introduced, city officials say they’re nearing the launch of a new system to publicly track occupancy at local homeless shelters.
The system is nearly built, but the city is working with service providers to ensure they can effectively use it before going live in the coming weeks, city officials told the Spokane City Council on Monday.
Advocates for the homeless have long pleaded for a system that tracks the number of available beds in Spokane’s shelters on any given night. Taking a gamble on one, only to find out that it’s full, could mean missing check-in time at another.
Timothy Sigler, director of Community, Housing, and Human Services, noted the complexity of accurately tracking shelter capacity. Providers have unique check-in times, for example, and not all are open 24/7.
Still, city officials say they are nearly prepared to unveil a pilot version of the shelter dashboard, which allows shelter operators to input their occupancy level directly and anyone to view it.
City staff met with shelter operators last week, and again Monday, to hear their concerns and questions about the project, and to make sure that they have the resources necessary to do up-to-date reporting.
“They’re coming up with solutions right now,” Sigler said.
Under precedent set by a federal court, the city is obligated to track shelter capacity if it wants to enforce its laws against camping in public and sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks during the daytime.
“I’ve been cautioning us for three or four years now on prosecuting these folks and putting them in prison or jail for this type of offense, because we don’t have a handle on how many beds are available,” said Councilwoman Kate Burke.
The new dashboard is “not just for enforcement purposes,” Sigler noted, but to “support the entire community.”
“The point is so that people and agencies and advocates can access this as up-to-date as possible,” Sigler said.
Service providers should be able to use the dashboard to point people to available beds, said Tija Danzig, the city’s homeless services program manager.
Councilman Michael Cathcart questioned whether the new system would produce data that is close to real time and suggested the city “put out a call for help and try to crowdsource a solution.”
But Council President Breean Beggs advocated the city not allow the “perfect be the enemy of the good.”
He argued it’s less important to have an exact available bed count than to know, generally, which shelter usually has beds available. It could give someone an idea, before venturing out to a shelter like Truth Ministries on East Sprague, of whether or not they’re likely to find an open bed upon arrival, he said.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect for us to start getting the benefit of it,” Beggs said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.