Facing intense demand, Volunteers of America will move into its new young adult shelter before renovations on the building are completed.
The nonprofit had not expected to be able to use the new space until work on the building is finished next year, but it announced Tuesday that it will start operating in the former Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency building in east Spokane on Dec. 1.
“This is our first step as a community to saying that we believe in these young people, we believe in what they can do and their strength and resiliency,” said Fawn Schott, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
The young adult shelter serving people between 18 and 24 years old is the only one of its kind in Spokane. It has been housed inside Transitions’ Women’s Hearth and the Hope House shelter downtown since May, when Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley won a joint state grant to provide beds for young adults.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit purchased the former Clean Air building on Augusta Avenue and mapped out renovations to convert it into a homeless shelter. But nonprofit leaders knew from community data that more young adults were experiencing homelessness than there were beds available in the temporary young adult shelters.
It remains to be seen whether the young adult shelter will once again have to find a temporary home when renovations begin next spring, but the nonprofit’s leaders didn’t want to wait any longer before expanding their capacity. With winter approaching, the nonprofit decided it would be better to be in bigger space, even if it wasn’t yet renovated, than allow young adults to sleep on the streets or in adult shelters.
The move expands the capacity from 30 beds across its two temporary shelters to 44 in a single space.
But the new facility does more than just offer new space – it also offers a sense of permanence. In its interim space at the Women’s Hearth, the young adult shelter was forced to pack up its bedding and other equipment into a small back room every morning to make way for the facility’s day-to-day programming.
Due to that daily dance, the shelter used emergency mats, not real beds.
Now, guests will be able to sleep on real mattresses atop actual bed frames lifted off the ground.
The new location offers two additional benefits: it is no longer in the heart of downtown, where perceived bad influences abound, and it is directly across the street from the Spokane Community College campus.
“We know the importance for these young people to have access to educational pathways and without that, we will never get ahead of a preventative model to end adult chronic homelessness in our community,” Schott said.
Once the renovation is complete, the building will feature a 1,200 square foot addition with four restrooms, a commercial kitchen and dining space. The shelter will operate 24/7 and provide one-on-one case management for guests.
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward described the opening of the young adult shelter in its permanent location as an important milestone and “final piece” of the plan she announced to address homelessness last July. It’s also an example of the regional collaboration she has called for since she entered office.
Woodward credited county leaders with identifying the former Clean Air Agency building as a suitable new home for the young adult shelter.
“As regional partners, we’ve accomplished a lot over the last year and a half,” Woodward said. “That progress has prepared us to take the next steps together to provide those individualized services and build the type of housing to transition people out of homelessness.”
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