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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City vows to fix Spokane’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department as concern mounts

As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

With the ranks of city staff dedicated to housing and homelessness depleted, the Spokane City Council is calling for an all-hands-on-deck effort.

The council adopted a resolution Monday supporting Mayor Nadine Woodward’s use of outside consultants to help the city apply for federal housing funds, as well as the administration’s creation of a “strike team” of top officials to help right the ship.

The city has experienced a surge of resignations among staffers of all levels within its Community, Housing and Human Services Department this year. The department does not have a director, nor is there a head of the division that encompasses it.

Those outside City Hall, including organizations that rely on funding obtained by the city, have called on the city to seek outside help in applying for grants and to ensure potential grant money is not wasted.

The resolution noted that the city has faced challenges in filling the vacancies, not unlike employers throughout the country in the COVID-19 economy.

Woodward’s administration has developed a “strike team” of top officials to address the vacancies.

Hiring has been a top priority for the group, and it is holding interviews to fill the director position this week, according to Eric Finch, the city’s chief innovation and technology officer. He is one of several officials chipping in to help steer the CHHS department.

“Obviously, it’s not fast work, but it’s necessary work to try to get the right level of expertise in place,” Finch said.

Finch and other city officials outlined to the City Council during a committee meeting Monday how they plan to keep up with the many requirements to functionally operate the department.

In addition to securing federal funding for its housing and homelessness programs, the department also is expected to form a plan to provide adequate homeless shelter over the winter.

The city recently signed a new contract to keep the Guardians Foundation as operators of the city’s Cannon Street shelter through the winter, said Marlene Feist, the city’s public works director.

The administration also has agreed to release weekly updates on the department’s operations.

Even as it does bring new people on board, officials have acknowledged that the new employees will not immediately match the productivity of the people they are replacing and will need to be brought up to speed.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson described the loss of expertise as “extremely disconcerting.”

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