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

City to restart process for proposals for east Spokane homeless shelter, citing potential conflicts of interest

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 will restart its process of soliciting proposals from potential operators for a more than 33,000-square-foot homeless shelter in east Spokane, citing conflicts of interest with the city board tasked with recommending an option to the administration.

Mayor Nadine Woodward previously identified a vacant warehouse at 4320 E. Trent Ave. as the site of the new shelter. The mayor has said the city exhausted a list of around 100 properties before settling on the site, as previous attempts by the city to locate an emergency shelter have faced fierce opposition from neighbors.

The city had received proposals from three organizations – The Guardians Foundation, Jewels Helping Hands and Salvation Army Spokane – in response to a request for proposals issued by the city’s Community Health and Human Services division in March. The request for proposals called for pitches to operate “a regional flex capacity shelter” with an estimated daily usage of 250 beds and surge capacity as needed.

The proposals were given to Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board, which was tasked with making a recommendation from the options. The proposals, and the identities of the groups that had submitted them, were not released by the city administration in the interest of this review process.

City officials say that members of the Continuum of Care board “who were parties to one of the proposals” participated in board discussion Friday about which one to recommend, according to a release from the city. And while those board members did not vote on the proposals, their participation violated the board’s conflict of interest policy.

Additionally, the proposals were shared outside of the board before the recommendation process was completed, creating “the potential for outside influence,” according to the release.

“Homelessness and the process of selecting a provider to meet the basic shelter needs of those in crisis is an emotionally charged challenge the City has been working exhaustively to meet,” Woodward said in a statement. “It’s really disheartening to get this far and to have it disrupted by even the potential appearance of outside influence in this competitive process.”

According to the city release, concerns about the integrity of the process were raised by staff on Monday and Tuesday. Accounts of those concerns were captured in meeting minutes and email.

Details on what the restarted process could entail, and the timeline, will be announced soon. City officials said the agencies that made proposals have been informed.

“The decision to start over was the right one even if it was extremely difficult because it potentially delays the opening of needed additional shelter space and hurts those who need help the most,” Woodward said.

Continuum of Care Board Chair Ben Stuckart said Monday a majority of the board “was not comfortable” with recommending any of the proposals “because people didn’t feel like they had enough answers to questions they had.” Friday’s in-person vote occurred after an emailed vote earlier in the week yielded similar results, he said.

Stuckart was identified in the Jewels Helping Hands proposal as a project manager at the start of the project. Meanwhile, one of the partnering organizations identified in the Jewels Helping Hands proposal is Compassionate Addiction Treatment, of which Hallie Burchinal is executive director.

Both have recused themselves from votes on the issue, Stuckart said. Nevertheless, he and Burchinal were reportedly still invited by the city to the Continuum of Care Board’s in-person meeting Friday.

In an interview Tuesday, Stuckart criticized the city for failing to answer questions like what will fund the the proposals and the length of a lease for a facility.

“Overall, it’s a good thing that they are starting over because they had a poor proposal,” he said. “They will now be forced to listen to the community that everybody else I’ve talked to understands that 250 people in a building is not a good idea or recipe for success.”

The topic will come up during the Spokane City Council’s regular study session Thursday.

Given that the Continuum of Care Board voted on the proposals, Council President Breean Beggs said he received a copy of the proposals Monday night and circulated those to members of the City Council, as he was of the understanding that the review process was done.

The Spokesman-Review also obtained copies of the proposals.

Since the city does not have a lease for the East Trent Avenue property, Beggs said he does not believe reissuing the request for proposals will slow anything down.

“I shared with the administration that council is going to provide them input on what the scope of the new (request for proposals) will be,” Beggs said. He later added, “We’re not anywhere imminent to opening a new shelter even if the (request for proposals) had not been restarted.”

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