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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City ends investigation into Jewels Helping Hands

Feb. 10, 2021 Updated Thu., Feb. 11, 2021 at 8:44 p.m.

Jason Green, left, and Kelley Bereiter, center, of Jewels Helping Hands, pass out cups of soup and hand warmers to James McCormick, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Coeur d'Alene Park in Spokane.
Jason Green, left, and Kelley Bereiter, center, of Jewels Helping Hands, pass out cups of soup and hand warmers to James McCormick, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Coeur d'Alene Park in Spokane.

After nearly a year, city officials have dropped their investigation into Jewels Helping Hands.

The decision, disclosed on Tuesday, marks the conclusion to an inquiry that lasted nearly a year, and enables the nonprofit homeless services provider to once again apply for city funding.

The city investigated a broad array of allegations against Jewels Helping Hands from community advocates and several of its past employees and guests.

The focus of the inquiry was on Jewels’ operation of the city-owned warming center on Cannon Street during the winter of 2019-2020.

The list of more than 100 complaints included routine drug use and distribution by staff and employees at the warming center, firing an employee for calling 911 during an emergency, and the use of racial epithets by staff members.

In its response, Jewels leaders denied nearly all of the claims and said others were irrelevant to its contract with the city.

Jewels representatives told The Spokesman-Review earlier this month that it planned to sue the city for unfairly excluding it from potential contracts and tarnishing its reputation as a nonprofit. It currently operates a warming center in City Church on Garland Avenue without city funding.

The city did not comment on the merit of the claims. In his email to Jewels on Tuesday, Community, Housing, and Human Services Director Timothy Sigler wrote only that the nonprofit would once again be considered for funding.

“I do want to note that some of the incident reports you provided do not completely align with your policies and procedures but that is something that our program team can work with you on in the future when monitoring performance and contractual obligations,” Sigler wrote.

If it chooses to do so, Jewels would be eligible to apply to operate the city’s planned day center on Cannon Street, according to city spokesman Brian Coddington.

“Apparently, a year’s work of investigating and holding up contracts boiled down to nothing more substantial than disagreements over how to interpret policies and incident reports. Anyway, we’re just glad it’s over,” Jewels board member Jason Green said in a statement.

The Cannon Street building, purchased by the city in 2019, operates as a winter warming center. With a request for proposals expected in the coming months, the city hopes to transition it to a year-round facility with drop-in services for people who are homeless. In times of harsh weather, like the cold gripping the region this week, the center could remain open overnight.

Just hours after its contract with Jewels Helping Hands expired last April, the city reopened the Cannon Street warming center under its COVID-19 sheltering plan with a new operator, The Guardians Foundation.

City officials notified Jewels that they would be ineligible for city contracts while it conducted an inquiry that would stretch on for months.

Jewels was not made aware of the nature of the allegations against it until December.

Last month, Jewels threatened legal action against the city and told The Spokesman-Review it had lost out on more than $2.5 million in city contracts while the investigation remained open.

Jewels founder Julie Garcia was highly critical of the investigative process, accusing the city of being opaque.

City officials defended the investigation as thorough and necessary based on the serious allegations levied against the nonprofit.

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