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Overview of proposed east Spokane homeless shelter leaves City Council with questions amid hopes to open this month

The Spokane City Council approved a zoning change on May 16 that would allow for a for the opening of a proposed homeless shelter, located at 4320 E. Trent Ave. It would serve adult men and women and operate 24 hours a day.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane City Council approved a zoning change on May 16 that would allow for a for the opening of a proposed homeless shelter, located at 4320 E. Trent Ave. It would serve adult men and women and operate 24 hours a day. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane City Council got a better look Monday at how the city’s developing homeless shelter on East Trent Avenue might work and cost.

The city administration has recommended the Guardians Foundation to operate the 4320 E. Trent Ave. warehouse as a homeless shelter for single adults and couples, with at least 150 beds. It will not require sobriety. The city has leased the warehouse for five years from local developer Larry Stone, who owns the property through a limited liability corporation.

Imagined as part of the city’s plan to relocate people out of the Camp Hope homeless encampment at East Second Avenue and Ray Street, the shelter is also expected to provide services like case management and resources for health care and job training. The facility could also accommodate weather-related emergencies, such as heat and smoke.

Pending the City Council’s approval of a contract with the Guardians Foundation as well as a certificate of occupancy, the city could have a “soft opening” of the Trent shelter as soon as later this month, said John Hall, the city’s director of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services.

While the City Council is scheduled next week to vote on the Guardians contract, several council members Monday expressed concerns with where the Trent shelter stands .

Their questions arose at the council’s Finance and Administration Committee meeting, during which Hall described the project in two phases.

The first involves setting up 150 beds that would occupy a larger part of the warehouse.

Portable partitions would separate the beds into five groupings based on demographics, said Michael Shaw, founder and CEO of the Guardians Foundation. Groupings would be single women, older single men, younger single men, couples and LGBTQ individuals.

Shaw said there are also plans for a small area of beds for people who, for example, show up in the early hours of the morning and “we don’t know their disposition,” to monitor them separately.

Hall said the partitions are 3 feet tall to ensure line of sight across the entire facility. Other than demographic separations, there would be no walls between each of the beds, Shaw said.

“Those 3-foot walls, it doesn’t seem like much, but you’d be amazed that to have just a little bit of, I wouldn’t even use the word privacy,” he said. “It’s so it’s not just one … open bay, you know what I mean?”

Councilman Zack Zappone questioned Hall about what sort of privacy the 3-foot partition walls would offer residents.

“Just want to be clear, there isn’t necessarily going to be privacy between the big groups of people then?” Zappone said. “Just 150 beds of 3-feet-high (walls). It will be sectioned off, but still visible throughout the rest of the shelter.”

Hall referenced a photo included in his presentation of what the bed setup might look like.

“I mean, it’s not going to be private, but they will have their own space,” he said. “In this photo, you can see the person has some storage space there. That’s how it will be for the partitions. The pods, it will be more private once we get to that phase.”

The second phase, contingent on funding from the state Department of Commerce, would involve building dozens of enclosed two-person rooms inside the warehouse. City officials have described these rooms as “pods.”

The city has requested $1 million from the Department of Commerce for building 60 pods as well as improvements such as restroom, shower, laundry, kitchen and office upgrades. The pods are enclosed spaces with walls, a door and enough room for two beds, but no roof.

The pods are not the Pallet shelters manufactured by their namesake company, Pallet, out of out of Everett. The Pallet shelters resemble quickly assembled tiny homes. City officials, however, believe their pod concept is functionally the same.

“They are loosely based on the type of pod that would accommodate two people sharing a space, including beds and personal storage,” city spokesman Brian Coddington said via email.

“Individuals using the pods would still share some common amenities like food, restrooms, showers, laundry, etc.”

This slide, included in a presentation given Monday to the Spokane City Council by John Hall, Spokane's director of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services, were used to show what the bed setup in the city's East Trent Avenue homeless shelter could look like. The images do not represent what the Trent shelter will actually look like.  (City of Spokane)
This slide, included in a presentation given Monday to the Spokane City Council by John Hall, Spokane’s director of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services, were used to show what the bed setup in the city’s East Trent Avenue homeless shelter could look like. The images do not represent what the Trent shelter will actually look like. (City of Spokane)

Rather than buying a prefabricated product like the Pallet shelters, Coddington said the pods will be framed and built on site to cut down on costs.

“The pods strategy affords a measure of increased privacy and becomes a transitional housing step to give individuals the benefit of a more gradual path if needed or desired than going straight from congregate shelter to being solely responsible for the care and upkeep of a separate unit,” he said.

The pod materials or exact dimensions have not been disclosed, though Shaw said he would estimate each one would have 8-foot walls and around 110 to 115 square feet.

“Individuals that we believe will be able to manage themselves in those little areas will be able to move into those for more sense of privacy,” Shaw said.

Hall said the Trent shelter would have actual beds with mattresses, not cots or mats.

The mattresses will be made and ordered subject to the operator contract, he said. If the shelter were to open later this month, Hall said Trent would have approximately 40 beds available along with a minimum of 100 mats to accommodate immediate needs.

The “soft opening” of the Trent shelter, Hall said, would take place within seven days of City Council approving the operator contract, and the issuance of a certificate of occupancy.

If that occurs, the shelter would open without an agency to provide services like case management.

After experiencing several delays in the past few months with finding a service provider, the city is reviewing a new series of prospective candidates to provide those services.

‘It is not inexpensive’

As proposed, the city of Spokane would contract with the Guardians Foundation to operate the Trent shelter for approximately $8.26 million, effective through Dec. 31, 2023.

Tonya Wallace, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city’s criminal justice fund as well as federal American Rescue Plan funding could cover the costs of running the Trent shelter through the rest of this year. The costs estimated for 2023 – assuming there’s no other state or federal funding support – could come from what’s left of the city’s American Rescue Plan funds as well as local housing sales tax revenue, Wallace said.

Only the sales tax revenue is sustainable, she said, as the criminal justice and American Rescue Plan funds are available through limited pots.

The situation is compounded by the contracts the city has with other homeless services providers that have expanded in the past five years, Wallace said. For the Trent shelter, the Guardians contract amounts to roughly $3,400 per bed per month, assuming there are 150 beds over a 16-month period.

Council President Breean Beggs said he would like to see how that compares with the city’s other contracted providers. Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who owns the Moore’s Assisted Living residential care facility, said the rate is in the ballpark of what she experiences with her business.

“Obviously, a lot of angst,” Wilkerson said, “but I have to say, when we’re investing in people, it is not a short game and it is not inexpensive.”

Beyond the cost concerns, council members expressed their desire for the Guardians contract to include a Good Neighbor Agreement that mirrors a template they developed and supported via resolution last month.

Good Neighbor Agreements are typically used to help address neighborhood concerns when homeless services are expanded into a community. The council’s version sets expectations for the services provider, the neighborhood council, neighbors, the city and the Spokane Police Department.

Councilman Michael Cathcart said he would support putting the Trent shelter project on pause until the city receives some type of funding commitment from the Department of Commerce.

Elements of the Trent shelter were included in the city’s application for funding through the department’s Rights of Way initiative, which has offered up to $24.3 million to Spokane County to relocate Camp Hope residents from the state right of way and into better living situations. The encampment is located on state Department of Transportation land.

In addition to the $1 million to help build the pods, the city has requested $2.4 million in Rights of Way funding toward shelter operational costs. The commerce department has not announced any funding for the Trent shelter.

“I’ll be honest: This is a no-case scenario for me. This is insane,” Cathcart said. “I don’t know how we pay for this.”

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