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City of Spokane identifies East Trent building as spot for new homeless shelter

UPDATED: Tue., April 12, 2022

Mayor Nadine Woodward’s proposal to place a homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent Ave. hit a snag Monday when the Spokane City Council voted down a zoning change.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Mayor Nadine Woodward’s proposal to place a homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent Ave. hit a snag Monday when the Spokane City Council voted down a zoning change. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The city of Spokane has identified a building in east Spokane as the prospective location for a new overnight homeless shelter.

Officials are negotiating a deal to lease the building at 4320 E. Trent Ave., the city announced Tuesday. The property owner is developer Larry Stone, listed as Lawrence B. Stone Properties #4320 LLC., according to Spokane County property records.

Stone did not respond to a request for comment.

Mayor Nadine Woodward said Tuesday the city is in the process of negotiating a multiyear lease, which would require approval from the Spokane City Council. The shelter’s opening date is dependent upon reaching the lease agreement and completing tenant improvements.

“It meets all the requirements that we had listed as far as being out of downtown away from residential neighborhoods, schools, day cares,” she said.

Woodward estimated she and city staff exhausted a list of around 100 other possibilities.

The size – more than 33,000 square feet of indoor space – and location, outside of downtown and close to a bus stop, made the building an ideal candidate, she said.

“It

is critical that operation of the shelter is based on mutual respect for guests, providers, neighbors, and businesses,” Councilman Michael Cathcart, who represents that area of Spokane, said in a statement. “Partnership is how we deliver the best outcomes for everyone.”

Councilman Jonathan Bingle, who also represents east Spokane, added, “Communication will be integral to successful operation of this new shelter. This location is a great opportunity to meet everyone’s needs.”

Previous attempts to locate a temporary shelter in other parts of Spokane received pushback fierce enough for the city to abandon those efforts.

In choosing the East Trent Avenue building, Woodward said the administration was informed not only by the preferences of local providers, but also by the experience of running a temporary warming shelter inside the Spokane Convention Center this past winter.

Damage to the floors, bathrooms and other parts of the facility amounted to just over $100,000 in the two weeks the Convention Center shelter was operational, Woodward said. With the new shelter, the mayor said the administration sought a building that’s easily cleanable, with harder surfaces and flexible space to house men, women and couples separately as needed.

“It just checked all the boxes,” Woodward said. “I think, as far as impact to the area, that this is a great option because there will be the least amount of impact that we have experienced when we have tried to locate shelters elsewhere in the city.”

The building, which was built in 1956, is in an area that’s zoned heavy industrial. Neighboring businesses include Oak Harbor Freight on North Havana Street, Modern Machinery next door and the Black Sheep Coffee Co. lingerie coffee shop across the street.

Oak Harbor Terminal Manager Branon Smith said Oak Harbor was “tipped off” last week about the shelter going in at that East Trent Avenue location. Smith then said he emailed the mayor, receiving a quick response about setting up a meeting to discuss it.

Smith said he and a group of other area business owners and managers met Thursday with City Administrator Johnnie Perkins, who reportedly explained what the city is hoping to do with the shelter. The city is offering to help with any additional fencing or security measures, such as cameras, Smith said.

Smith got the impression that the shelter was “a done deal.”

“What we explained to him was this is already a high-crime area. All the businesses around here have been broken into,” he said. “We’re sympathetic to the homeless and the homeless problem, but we don’t feel this is a good location to put it in.”

Modern Machinery General Manager Ken McGuire said he heard about the city’s plan from Smith and reached out to the mayor’s office himself for more information. He also met with Perkins on Thursday, he said, though apparently separate from the city administrator’s stop at Oak Harbor.

Similarly, McGuire said he was told the homeless shelter would have a metal detector and consistent police presence, while the city is also willing put up some sort of wall or barrier between Modern Machinery and the property. McGuire said he’d want a concrete wall at least 8 feet high with barbed wire across the top and new security cameras for Modern Machinery.

Even then, McGuire said he’d have concerns, citing the “millions of dollars in parts” on Modern Machinery’s premises and the safety of his employees.

“All of this steel we have could be at Pacific Steel in 20 minutes and somebody’s got enough cash to get more drugs. I said that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” McGuire said. “I understand there’s a homeless problem. I’m not trying to be crass about it, but I don’t think a lot of these people want to be fixed. They want their freedom to do what they want.

“They have to put them somewhere,” he added, “but there’s got to be a spot that has less impact on businesses.”

Once used by Berg Manufacturing Inc., the structure is essentially a large, vacant warehouse, said Council President Breean Beggs, who toured the facility, as did other city councilmembers.

Speaking to the concerns of neighboring businesses, Beggs said city leaders, “committed to making sure there’s adequate police and security,” plan to be careful in choosing the facility’s operator.

“I understand why people would be nervous of the unknown,” Beggs said, “but I think for the overall community, people sleeping in a safe place with services and active management is going to be a far better situation than the current status quo, which is no services for these people and no management.”

The City Council will consider legislation Monday that, if approved, will create an interim zoning rule to allow indoor emergency shelters to operate within heavy industrial zones. The ordinance would remain in effect for at least six months.

Stone’s company bought the property in March for $3.5 million.

The request for proposals indicated the shelter will provide daytime services, including bathrooms, showers, electronics charging, meals and connections for services, such as those addressing mental health, addiction, job training and more.

The city’s Community Health and Human Services division issued a request for proposals last month to solicit organizations that could provide those services out of the building.

A subcommittee of Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board still is reviewing the three submitted proposals. Given the ongoing review, the proposals are not public at this time, said city spokesperson Brian Coddington.

From here, the subcommittee will make a recommendation to the full Continuum of Care Board, which will eventually reach Community Health and Human Services, Coddington said. With this recommendation in mind, the mayor picks the proposal to forward to the City Council for approval.

Woodward claimed she has not yet reviewed the specific proposals, including one submitted by homeless service provider Jewels Helping Hands. The organization pitched the idea of pallet shelters – housing akin to tiny homes – in contrast to one large shelter.

Jewels is operating the homeless encampment along East Second Avenue known as Camp Hope, which – as of late last month – had grown to more than 300 people on property owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Typically when we go through this process, we don’t have a provider that tries to advocate for their proposal outside of the process, which is what is happening right now,” Woodward said of the media coverage on the Jewels proposal.

Asked about the Jewels proposal, Woodward and Coddington pointed to the wording in the city’s request for proposals. The document, referencing a “facility,” sought proposals for the operation of “a regional flex capacity shelter” at a location with approximately 32,500 square feet.

“The (request for proposals) was for a building. It was for the warehouse,” she said. “It wasn’t for other creative ideas. I mean, those can happen. Those can be discussed, but for this purpose, the (request for proposals) was for the facility that we are going to lease.”

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