Mayor Nadine Woodward outlined a plan last week to replace the homeless shelter beds that will be lost when The Way Out shelter closes later this month.
The city will lean on Union Gospel Mission, Truth Ministries and Catholic Charities to buttress the low-barrier shelter capacity across its network of homeless shelters.
“We’re ready, we’re executing this plan,” Woodward told the City Council in a meeting on Thursday.
But it’s unclear if the plan, in its current form, complies with a new city law that requires the city to rectify any reduction in low-barrier shelter beds – unless it can prove that there is no demand for them.
“UGM, Truth Ministries and Catholic Charities all play an important part in providing shelter beds, but they don’t replace the beds we are about to lose on June 30,” Council President Breean Beggs wrote in an email to The Spokesman-Review.
Beggs estimates about 500 people are living in Spokane without shelter.
“We’re still going to have people in the street, so what are we really accomplishing here?” asked Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who chairs the council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee.
City spokesman Brian Coddington told The Spokesman-Review on Friday the administration would ensure its plan complies with city law by June 30.
The Way Out Shelter on Mission Avenue has been operated by The Salvation Army since last year, when Spokane County purchased the building with federal coronavirus relief funds.
On June 30, the shelter will close as The Salvation Army repairs the building and transitions to a new “bridge” model, which will set stricter standards for its guests and aim to guide them out of homelessness. The closure will temporarily reduce the citywide low-barrier shelter capacity by 102 beds.
To that end, Woodward outlined a plan to add more beds when The Way Out closes.
Union Gospel Mission will open 65 of its beds to The Way Out’s former guests, Woodward said. The shelter does not receive city funding and is not considered low-barrier, meaning it imposes requirements on its guests such as sobriety, but Woodward said it will remove all barriers for the 65 new beds.
But that is not how Union Gospel Mission described the plan. It will continue to require sobriety of all of its guests, except if they have a prescription authorized by a medical or mental health provider.
The people moving to Union Gospel Mission will be those who have told The Salvation Army they are interested in returning to The Way Out Shelter when it reopens later this year as a Bridge Housing Shelter, Woodward explained.
“They have said that they want to take the next step to move out of homelessness,” Woodward said.
Those people will be entered into Union Gospel Mission’s Employment Readiness Program, which is similar to the bridge housing model planned by The Salvation Army.
“There will be an expectation of sobriety as is normal for all UGM facilities,” Joel Brown, UGM’s director of ministries, wrote in an email. “Others have requested (to) move into one of the other programs at UGM and a few simply want to stay in the shelter.”
Woodward described the Union Gospel Mission’s beds as “new beds to the system.”
The Union Gospel Mission clarified that the beds are not the result of an expansion; rather, the beds already existed in its men’s shelter and women’s crisis shelter but have consistently sat empty.
“It just doesn’t add up for me. I think this is just substituting one kind of bed for another kind of bed,” Kinnear said.
Coddington chalked up the confusion over Union Gospel Mission’s beds to a misunderstanding that the city would resolve before June 30.
The intention is to replace low-barrier beds with low-barrier beds, Coddington said. The mayor’s belief was that the beds at Union Gospel Mission would be low-barrier.
Each of the shelters’ new beds outlined in Woodward’s plan are open only to adult men, a fact noted by Councilwoman Candace Mumm.
To make space for women, Woodward replied, men currently staying at the city’s Cannon Street shelter will be relocated to other shelters like Union Gospel Mission or House of Charity.
The city will not pay Union Gospel Mission or Catholic Charities under the new plan.
“There is very little cost to this transition,” Woodward said.
The city is adding 35 new beds thanks to Catholic Charities’ House of Charity, which is part of a state pilot to begin reducing social distancing requirements imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Guests who have been vaccinated will no longer have to sleep 6 feet apart, according to Dena Carr, the shelter’s manager.
“We’re essentially creating pods of fully vaccinated folks,” Carr said.
The program was crafted with health officials, and participants will be frequently tested for COVID-19 to monitor for potential breakthrough cases.
“If we start identifying that there’s issues of breakthrough infection, our first priority is healthy sheltering and will revert to our original numbers,” Carr said.
The final 25 new beds will be added at Truth Ministries, which is located on East Sprague. The shelter typically charges its guests a $2 fee per night, but the city will pay that fee on the guests’ behalf.
Beggs noted the beds at Catholic Charities are not technically new and existed before the pandemic. Truth Ministries, he noted, is not open 24/7 like The Way Out shelter.
With the city scheduled to receive more than $80 million from the American Rescue Plan, Beggs said it is “the first time in a generation we finally have adequate funds to not just replace those beds but increase them so that we can bring people out of the camps and out of the doorways.”
When The Salvation Army’s shelter reopens later this year, it will have space for 60 people in the Bridge Housing Program and 50 low-barrier beds on the bottom floor.
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