After weeks of trepidation and concern, the Spokane City Council signed off Monday on a five-year funding commitment to The Salvation Army’s new transitional housing shelter.
The council’s concerns over the contract were the major hurdle standing in the way of the nonprofit opening The Way Out Center bridge housing program.
The agreement now heads to The Salvation Army and the Spokane County Board of Commissioners for final approval.
Despite the council’s approval, several members continued to voice concern over the same issues that had delayed previous votes on a contract for the 55 W. Mission Ave. shelter.
“I don’t feel good about all the work and the talk that we’ve had, and we’re still kind of nowhere,” Councilwoman Karen Stratton said.
But to The Salvation Army and Mayor Nadine Woodward, Monday’s vote was a huge relief.
Salvation Army Maj. Ken Perine told The Spokesman-Review that the shelter has already begun the hiring process and identified several people who will move in once it gets the final approval.
The nonprofit had hoped to open sooner – it held a ribbon cutting ceremony last week – but Perine looked past the delay and said “at the end of the day, the fact that it’s opening is the big news.”
“That is the great victory and the few days of delay living through this process – it’s still a miraculous event to get all the entities on the same page,” Perine said.
The Way Out Center is a signature example of Woodward’s homelessness response: a collaboration with other regional governments and a service model that places higher personal accountability on those who stay there.
“It’s a huge part of what we’ve been doing for the last year and a half,” Woodward told The Spokesman-Review.
Council members have sought assurances that The Salvation Army would abide by a “good neighbor agreement,” which would set expectations for how it interacts with the nearby community.
The latest draft of the contract separates the good neighbor agreement, allowing officials more time to draft one and negotiate it apart from the main contract.
Some have also wanted The Salvation Army to commit to never using the bottom floor of its building for night-by-night, emergency shelter.
The Way Out program is not a night-by-night shelter. Instead, it will serve people who are referred to it because they are believed to be ready to transition out of homelessness and into more permanent housing.
The Way Out Shelter will not use all of the building. The current plan for its bottom floor is to isolate COVID-positive people.
However, the contract does not explicitly prohibit the nonprofit from ever operating a low-barrier, night-by-night shelter.
Stratton asked that language be inserted in the contract that would commit The Salvation Army to not operating an emergency shelter.
As cold weather encroaches on the city, Stratton said she and the neighborhood are concerned there will be a rapid push to open more shelter beds and “the next thing we know, a deal’s been made and we’ve got this Way Out shelter being used as a warming center.”
The city is sharing the cost of the contract with Spokane County, which used COVID-19 aid to purchase the building last year.
The abrupt purchase of the building, then its use as an emergency shelter for much of the pandemic, drew the ire of neighborhood residents and businesses. That anger struck a chord with Stratton and Council Member Michael Cathcart, who have pushed city officials to negotiate a good neighbor agreement.
Cathcart and Stratton were the only two members to vote against the contract on Monday night.
Assuming the county receives the signed contract by Nov. 18, the Board of County Commissioners is expected to have the agreement on its docket for approval on Nov. 30, according to county spokesperson Jared Webley.