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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council mulls ideas for new homeless shelter: Smaller with pallet shelters, drive-in options

Spokane officials are back at the drawing board with conceptualizing how a new city-funded homeless shelter might work.

Keen on giving direction to the city administration with those details, members of the Spokane City Council met Thursday in a study session to discuss their ideas for a new homeless shelter, as informed, in part, by community feedback.

The city previously requested proposals from providers to operate a 33,000-square-foot facility with a daily usage of 250 beds plus surge capacity. Officials are reissuing that request, however, citing conflicts of interest with a board tasked to recommend a provider.

It’s unclear whether the size and scope of the proposed facility will change with the new request for proposals.

City Council meetings in the last few weeks have been attended by many advocating for smaller shelters, with options for drive-in and tents, to accommodate folks uncomfortable with staying in a larger shelter.

A City Council resolution suggesting criteria for the new request for proposals features these elements of a smaller, more mixed approach.

One of the criteria would limit proposals to shelters with 120 regular beds on a daily basis plus surge capacity.

In addition, the resolution calls for concepts involving both pallet shelter and drive-in models of housing, restricting each model to up to 100 people. Proposals for these models would also have to include “a secure, 24/7 monitored fenced perimeter,” while they could not be adjacent to another homeless facility.

Pallet shelters, manufactured by a company in Everett, are similar to tiny homes, though they do not include plumbing and can be assembled quickly.

The resolution is subject to change. Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and Council President Breean Beggs, who collaborated on the legislation, asked council members Thursday to submit feedback and any proposed changes.

Further discussion is anticipated Monday, at which point the City Council may vote on the measure.

“I think this would help inform (the administration’s) criteria for the next (request for proposals),” said Councilman Zack Zappone, “and then we can focus on what are best practices, what can save us money in the long term, because spending a lot of money on a large shelter that isn’t going to be successful is going to cost taxpayers more money in the long term and in the near term, too.”

As it stands, Mayor Nadine Woodward has identified a vacant warehouse on East Trent Avenue as the site for a new shelter. The city has not yet agreed to a lease with the property’s owner, local developer Larry Stone.

The East Trent Avenue property is still on the table – at least for now, as Stone said in a statement to KXLY that he might have to lease to a private party if the council delays further on temporarily changing the zoning code to allow shelters in heavy industrial areas.

“I love my city and I desperately want to help it,” he said in the statement. “But, I do not have the power to overcome obstruction in the City Council or other obstructions.”

Stone has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Spokesman-Review.

The council discussion Thursday floated into the topic of scattered sites in neighborhoods.

“There are mental health facilities throughout Spokane in every neighborhood that are coexisting with their neighbors, and treatment centers with their neighbors,” said Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson.

Councilman Michael Cathcart said he does not support placing shelters in residential or commercial zoning districts. Previous attempts by the city to locate an emergency shelter have faced fierce opposition from neighbors.

Given the stress with just finding one location, Councilman Jonathan Bingle said pursuing a scattered sites concept would be impossible for Woodward and the administration.

“This, right here, might not have been the best situation,” Bingle said, “but at least it was a step toward helping us to take people who are in very dangerous situations and get them out of that situation.”

Continuum of Care kerfuffle

Prior to discussing the resolution, the City Council heard from members of Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board on what happened with the previous request for proposals process.

The Continuum of Care Board was tasked by the city to recommend a provider proposal. Board Co-Chair Dale Briese said the board has a nine-member subcommittee specifically designated for reviewing requests for proposals.

The board’s involvement was a “formality,” Briese explained, given how the proposal is not funded at all by federal Continuum of Care funds, and city leaders are the ones to make the final decision. He described a review process in which board members were given around a week by the city’s Community Health and Human Services division to get this done.

“That was a quick turnaround with a lot of questions without no budgets, without no reflection, location, (Point-in-Time) Count,” Briese said.

It’s unclear whether the Continuum of Care Board will be involved in the restarted request for proposals process.

In a release Tuesday, the city administration announced the need for a redo for two reasons: conflict of interest and breach of process, as the proposals were shared outside of the board before the recommendation process was complete.

The conflict of interest may stem from one of the three submitted proposals, which identified Continuum of Care Board Chair Ben Stuckart as a first-year “project manager” with a salary of $151,200 if the proposal was to move forward.

The same proposal identified Compassionate Addiction Treatment as a project partner. Hallie Burchinal, Compassionate Addiction Treatment executive director, is a member of the board.

The Spokesman-Review obtained copies of the three proposals.

While Stuckart and Burchinal recused themselves from any voting that took place, their reported involvement in board discussions on the proposal violated the group’s conflict of interest policy. Stuckart has challenged this notion, claiming the city invited him to participate in a board meeting last week that broached the subject.

Briese told the council Thursday that board members, by charter, are allowed to discuss matters if they recuse themselves from voting.

Per the board’s governance charter, however, that is false.

The charter states board members must fully disclose the nature of the interest and “recuse themselves from discussing, lobbying or voting” whenever they or any immediate family members have a financial or personal interest in an issue before the board.

In any event, Briese said he felt the planning process with the East Trent Avenue property can be done in “a healthier way.”

“The best thing that could have happened: Ask the homeless,” he said. “Because if 100 homeless or 150 out there at tent city said, ‘I would take a pallet home if you put it in that parking lot,’ guess what? We’re halfway there. We have to lean into asking the homeless what they want.”