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Woodward to maintain course for proposed 250-bed homeless shelter as City Council recommends limits, alternatives

As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
As the sun sets in downtown Spokane, Washington, a pedestrian walks by the entrance of the City Hall building, Monday, Oct 11, 2021. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

While members of the Spokane City Council have offered recommendations to Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration for what new requests for proposals should include, Woodward said the council’s input won’t impact her administration’s priorities for a homeless shelter on East Trent Avenue.

Woodward previously identified a vacant warehouse at 4320 E. Trent Ave. as the ideal site for an approximately 33,000-square-foot facility with a daily usage of 250 beds plus surge capacity. The City Council, however, is recommending shelter space with less than half that capacity.

The mayor, still gunning for that 250-bed facility with onsite wraparound services, said Tuesday a potential lease is still in the works with the property’s owner, local developer Larry Stone.

“I think they are moving toward an approach of smaller numbers of population in shelters, but there are cities across the country that operate large numbers of people in shelters,” Woodward said. “On that issue, it’s more on management rather than numbers.”

When the time comes, the City Council will ultimately have to approve the East Trent Avenue lease and operator.

Council President Breean Beggs said Tuesday the council “will be using the criteria that we approved in our resolution” when making those decisions.

“I think we could all be a little more collaborative in getting the shelter open,” Woodward said. “When we do have something, to have to, at this point, have it slowed down, it’s frustrating, but we’ll keep moving forward.”

City administrators originally sent out a request for proposals from potential shelter operators in March. They are now redoing that process, citing breach of process and conflicts of interest with a board tasked to recommend a provider.

It’s unclear whether that group, Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board, will be involved in the new request for proposals process, which is expected to start next week. Woodward said officials are discussing the makeup of a new review committee.

The mayor said she otherwise does not expect significant changes with the coming request for proposals. This time around, submitters know – and likely have toured – the site for the facility they’re pitching to run, she said.

City Council members formalized their recommendations Monday night with a 5-2 vote, with councilmen Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle opposed.

Slightly adjusted from a draft councilmembers discussed last week, the recommended priorities include shelter space capable of housing around 100 beds per acre, flexible space for increasing extreme weather capacity, dedicated space for onsite service providers and proximity and/or dedicated transportation to training sites, such as apprenticeship programs and job training resources.

The resolution also calls for concepts involving both pallet shelter and drive-in models of housing, restricting each 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.

Monday’s vote came following a public comment period that saw 30 people chime in on the issue. Councilmembers adjusted the legislation to reflect their items are recommendations, not requirements.

Councilman Zack Zappone described the council’s recommendations as part of a “holistic approach” to addressing homelessness in the city.

“A shelter on Trent is not going to solve homelessness in Spokane. It is not even going to allow us to clear a camp because it doesn’t have enough capacity,” Zappone said, referencing the Camp Hope homeless encampment on East Second Avenue. “Rather, it is a step forward and we’re all agreeing on something: We need another shelter. We’re agreeing on the next steps.”

Cathcart said the 100-beds-per-acre limitation could hamstring the potential of the East Trent Avenue site and force the city to somehow find a handful of other locations to accommodate the city’s homeless population.

“It just doesn’t make sense that we would overly limit this to the point where we simply can’t set up a shelter, because that’s probably what’s going to happen,” he said, later adding, “There really is no great option, but this is the best of the options that we have right now.”

The space provisions recommended by the council are unrealistic, Woodward said.

City officials have abandoned previous attempts to locate an emergency shelter due to sharp opposition from neighbors.

The East Trent Avenue property – located in a heavy industrial zoned area – has received its share of pushback in recent weeks from area businesses and institutions, including Spokane Community Colleges and the warehouse’s immediate neighbors, Oak Harbor Freight and Modern Machinery.

Woodward said she also does not support the drive-in models included in the resolution, as vehicles are unsafe options in extreme cold or heat.

“I think we can do better than that,” Woodward said. “That’s why we are working so hard on this shelter to provide people a safe place inside to sleep with meals, access to showers, restrooms and the kinds of services they need to be connected to to help them move out of homelessness.”

Pallet homes, on the other hand, could be “a great option” that the city or the private sector could explore, Woodward said. Pallet shelters, manufactured in Everett, are like tiny homes that don’t have plumbing and can be assembled quickly.

The mixed approach recommended by the City Council was partially honed out of concepts offered during several public comment sessions at council meetings in recent weeks, with homeless individuals and advocates calling on city officials to consider alternatives.

Zappone said the limits recommended by the resolution recognize that warehousing 250 people together could make for potential problems.

“We hear a lot from people in the homeless community who have that lived experience who say, ‘I don’t want to go to a warehouse. I don’t want to be there,’ ” he said.

Asked about those preferences, Woodward said, “I think we need to get to the point where we’re working to make homelessness less comfortable and get people connected to services.”

“I think we need to be able to offer the kinds of resources that people need to move them out of homelessness rather than make them comfortable in their homelessness,” she said.

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