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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Local government

City Council backs Salvation Army shelter, but with a catch

Maj. Ken Perine of the Salvation Army talks with the news media in the new Salvation Army homeless shelter on Mission Avenue, Thursday, August 13, 2020, in Spokane. The Salvation Army will turn that facility into a bridge shelter, to help people transition to permanent housing.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Maj. Ken Perine of the Salvation Army talks with the news media in the new Salvation Army homeless shelter on Mission Avenue, Thursday, August 13, 2020, in Spokane. The Salvation Army will turn that facility into a bridge shelter, to help people transition to permanent housing. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

After months of delay, the Spokane City Council formally – and finally – pledged to fund a new homeless shelter operated by the Salvation Army.

But the city’s $3.5 million of support over the next five years was not without conditions. The council insisted the city come to a “good neighbor agreement” with the West Mission Avenue shelter’s operator before allocating money toward its operation.

No such agreement currently exists, but city officials indicated Monday they’re working to include “good neighbor principles” in an operating agreement with the Salvation Army.

The council’s vote on Monday ends a lengthy stalemate.

Council members never questioned the validity or potential efficacy of the bridge housing program, which will be the first of its kind in Spokane. But several balked before committing to funding the shelter, which has the support of Spokane Valley, Spokane County, and Mayor Nadine Woodward.

They cited the frustrations felt by neighborhood leaders when Spokane County abruptly purchased the building and opened it as an emergency homeless shelter as part of its COVID-19 response in 2020.

The low-barrier portion of the shelter closed this summer. The bridge housing program, which is expected to open in the coming weeks, is not a low-barrier, night-by-night emergency shelter. It is open to guests by referral only and is intended to help transition people into permanent housing.

Much of the council’s consternation centered on whether a portion of the building would ever be used as a low-barrier shelter again.

In its briefing session before the legislative meeting, Councilman Michael Cathcart unsuccessfully attempted to amend the resolution to specify that the city would not fund the program if the Salvation Army used the building for emergency shelter.

The amendment narrowly failed by a 4-3 margin.

The Salvation Army has not committed to operating a low-barrier shelter in the Mission Avenue building but has also not said it never would.

Cathcart warned against mixing a low-barrier shelter downstairs and the bridge shelter, whose residents are a “curated population of folks that are ready to move on,” in the same building.

“I worry that it creates negative incentives for folks and maybe holds them back,” Cathcart said.

Councilwoman Karen Stratton noted that many of the neighbors have not objected to the bridge housing program.

“This neighborhood has never really been included in a lot of these discussions, so there’s still a little bit of sensitivity around that,” Stratton said.

Stratton and Cathcart were the only members to vote against the resolution committing funding to the program.

The resolution ultimately adopted by the council requires the Salvation Army to sign on to a good neighbor agreement, which it does not specifically define.

City attorney Michael Ormsby advised the council on Monday that the Salvation Army does not sign separate good neighbor agreements, but that “good neighbor principles” were incorporated into a draft operating agreement.

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