Two more employees focused on housing and homelessness have resigned from the city of Spokane.
Brenda Schreiber, a program manager, and Matt Davis, a program professional, submitted their resignations from the Community, Housing and Human Services Department this week.
Their departures will leave the department of 20 positions with eight vacancies, meaning 40% of its positions are unfilled.
The resignations come just weeks after CHHS Director Timothy Sigler resigned, followed by Cupid Alexander, who led the city’s Neighborhoods, Housing and Human Services division, which encompasses CHHS.
The department also lost top homelessness senior manager Tija Danzig earlier this year, though the city has identified finalist candidates to replace her.
The departures will only intensify scrutiny on Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration by the Spokane City Council, whose members have called out the administration for failing to fill vacant positions across City Hall.
The Human Resources department reported to inquiring City Council members this week that the city has 183 active vacancies, a rate of about 8%, according to Council President Breean Beggs.
In an email to Beggs on Monday, Human Resources official Meghann Steinolfson said just less than half of those empty positions have had “action initiated” to seek a replacement – although Steinolfson noted the list might not be up to date, as Human Resources has had staffing issues of its own.
Despite the turnover, the administration continues to say homeless and housing services will continue uninterrupted.
“You have six actual vacancies and two that are anticipated vacancies, so at this point no, all the work is continuing and services are being provided to the community as expected,” said city spokesman Brian Coddington.
Asked if this staffing level was sustainable, Coddington acknowledged “it’s something that is concerning and something that is being worked on to hire people in those positions as rapidly as possible to make sure that work doesn’t get interrupted.”
Four of the open positions must be hired through the Civil Service system, which slows down the process. There is an active list of candidates for two of those four positions, which could allow the city to fill them faster, but the other two will require a more laborious hiring process.
In June, Woodward hired former Trump administration official Chris Patterson as a special adviser following Alexander’s resignation. Patterson served as a regional administrator for the federal department of Housing and Urban Development under President Donald Trump.
City Council members have expressed concern that CHHS employees are overworked and burning out.
The administration has pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a potential factor.
“You have a department that has a high degree of visibility and attention to it to begin with, and you layer on top of it the demands of COVID … you get into a position where people do have some degree of burnout,” Coddington said.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she’s worried about the remaining employees who are focused on homelessness.
“How many individuals do we have right now, hands on deck working with some of these homeless issues that we’re hearing about,” Stratton said.
The administration’s stance is that the City Council’s vocal involvement in the issue is not helpful, nor is it the council’s role.
But Stratton said council members are the ones who hear from the community with concerns. Right now, she said, she doesn’t know where to send them for assistance.
“I don’t know where to send these people to get answers and to have somebody say this is the plan … there’s nothing there,” Stratton said.
The turnover comes as Woodward works to implement her strategy to provide homeless shelter in a post-COVID city.
The network of homeless services she’s outlined includes a new bridge housing program operated by The Salvation Army and young adult shelter operated by Volunteers of America. The city-owned warming center on Cannon Street will now be operated year-round; during moderate weather, it will open during the day and offer homeless services, but it will be used as an overnight shelter during weather emergencies.
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