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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City laying groundwork for post-pandemic homeless shelter system

The Guardians Foundation Executive Director Michael Shaw, left, and Cannon Street shelter security staff member Martin Burgess are on duty at the shelter March 12, 2019, in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE)

After a year in which homeless shelters shapeshifted to the demands of a pandemic, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration is planning to transition the city’s emergency homeless shelter on Cannon Street into a permanent, 24/7 facility replete with services later this fall.

Under a proposal outlined Monday, the Guardians Foundation will continue to operate the Cannon Street shelter through at least August. The Way Out Shelter, operated by the Salvation Army on West Mission Avenue, is expected to close this summer and undergo renovations before reopening under a “bridge” housing model touted by Woodward.

Both shelters are operating under contracts set to expire June 30.

“I’m excited that we actually have a plan, that we will not be having gaps, because our citizens deserve that and the neighborhood deserves that also,” said Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson.

The Guardians has operated the Cannon Street shelter since last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced existing shelters across the city to space out their guests and limit their capacity.

But Mayor Nadine Woodward has eyed the city-owned building as a permanent, yet flexible, shelter at the core of the city’s homeless services.

The city expects to operate the shelter on a 24/7 basis, sleeping guests overnight during cold weather or in other extreme emergencies, such as when the region is blanketed in hazardous wildfire smoke.

The building will be open year-round at least during the daytime hours and offer drop-in services for people where they can accomplish a task as simple as charging a cell phone or get connected with social services.

The homelessness response plans were discussed in a meeting of the Spokane City Council’s Finance and Administration Committee.

Council members pressed the administration to outline a “holistic” plan to address the needs of the city’s homeless population.

“Let’s look at this big picture and not fix it as we go along,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

Council President Breean Beggs reminded the administration that the council passed a new law last year that requires the administration to outline a plan to replace the beds of any shelter it closes, assuming there was demand for them.

Under the plan detailed this far, the city plans to extend its contract with the Guardians for 90 days.

The Guardians operates the shelter now, but its long-term provider will be selected through a competitive bidding process.

“We think there’s multiple organizations that are interested in providing the service,” said City Administrator Johnnie Perkins.

The goal is to have the shelter open under its long-term provider on Sept. 1, but the structure of the Guardians contract will allow it to continue to operate through September if necessary.

The contract extensions will require City Council approval, as will a request to pull $1.1 million from city reserves to maintain the shelter through the end of 2021.

That price tag includes the estimated cost of the contract extension with the Guardians, a contract with the permanent provider, and capital improvements to the building. City officials are eyeing American Rescue Plan funds to pay for the shelter, using reserves as a “last resort,” according to city CFO Tonya Wallace .

The Way Out shelter will eventually transition to a “bridge” housing model, which will serve only people who are referred by another provider because they are deemed stable and read y for permanent housing.