Less than three years after it launched, the future of a center aimed at connecting people with social services, like housing and job training, was muddied this week.
Amid concerns about its efficacy and cost, the Spokane City Council on Monday rejected a proposed lease extension for the Spokane Resource Center’s space near the corner of Second Avenue and Arthur Street .
There was no backup plan, so the vote left city and county leaders scrambling.
“I was a little surprised that four council members had voted against it… I’m disappointed, but those were the votes,” Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said.
It also stunned Mayor Nadine Woodward, who said the resource center was continuing to have a positive impact through the pandemic.
“We’re trying to salvage what we can of the agreement,” Woodward said.
The Spokane Resource Center opened in 2019 in an effort to connect people, such as those who are homeless or re-entering society after incarceration, with social services like housing and job training. The concept was to host more than a dozen agencies under a single roof, creating a single space for people to access help they need.
The City Council has already signed on to help fund the resource center’s operations through December, but had not agreed to a long-term lease for its space. The city shares the cost with Spokane County and the Spokane Workforce Council.
The federal Housing and Urban Development designated the Spokane Resource Center as one of its several “EnVision” Centers across the country when it opened. HUD did not fund the EnVision Centers, but laid out a template for them.
After a two-year pilot, the Spokane Resource Center looked to extend its lease through May 2023.
The monthly payment of $21,833 was to be shared between Spokane County, the city of Spokane and the Spokane Workforce Council, the nonprofit that oversees the Spokane Resource Center’s operation.
Spokane County Commissioners signed off on the agreement, but the Spokane City Council balked.
Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear argued that $12 per square foot of space wasn’t an unreasonable price for the neighborhood, but she said much of the space inside the Resource Center’s facility is essentially unusable.
“I don’t begrudge their performance, that’s not the issue for me … Is that a cost-effective place to have those services when you look at the actual space and the amount of space we’re paying for that we can’t use?” Kinnear asked.
Leaders of the Spokane Resource Center, which had to navigate providing social services last year amid a pandemic that cut off in-person access, presented data on its efficacy in a presentation to the City Council this summer.
Beggs is a believer in the resource center. The Spokane Workforce Council coordinates the whole center, he noted, and the city only has to pick up a portion of its cost. The new lease was to be shared between the local partners, as opposed to the original lease, which was borne entirely by the city.
The Spokane Resource Center has served more than 6,000 customers since the start of the pandemic, according to Dawn Karber, its chief operating officer.
But not everyone has been swayed.
Kinnear suggested returning to a more scattered service model, using places like community centers that are already embedded in neighborhoods instead of a single resource center.
She also questioned whether a thorough review was ever conducted of the resource center’s first two years.
Karber referred questions about the resource center’s efficacy to Spokane County officials.
Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson also voted against the lease, citing concerns about its length. She also questioned whether, in the age of COVID-19, the physical space is still necessary.
“A lot of other providers were in that space offering services, but with COVID, now everybody’s doing outreach, so do we have to still be down there to make the same impact?” Wilkerson asked.
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