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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘It’s a game-changer’: East Spokane homeless shelter expected to open next week after City Council approves operator

Aug. 29, 2022 Updated Mon., Aug. 29, 2022 at 9:58 p.m.

The proposed homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent has more than 33,000 square feet of indoor space.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The proposed homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent has more than 33,000 square feet of indoor space. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane’s new homeless shelter on East Trent Avenue is expected to open next week after the City Council voted Monday to approve a contract with the facility’s designated operator.

The City Council authorized an approximately $6.6 million contract with the Guardians Foundation to operate the shelter through Dec. 31, 2023. The city, which has leased the 4320 E. Trent Ave. property for the next five years, intends to use the warehouse as a shelter for at least 150 people with surge capacity for excessive heat, cold, smoke or other emergencies.

“I know from hearing people in the community that this location, this building, the operator – it’s not ideal for some people, but it is what we have and it is a game-changer,” said City Council President Breean Beggs.

The shelter, dubbed the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, could open as soon as Labor Day once improvements – including those for insulation, accessibility, fencing, fire safety equipment and walls for separate spaces – are completed and inspected, the city announced after Monday night’s meeting.

“The center immediately gives us the ability to offer individuals a safe, healthy and humane place to get out of the elements, eat regular meals, and connect to services and supports they need to take the next steps in their journey out of homelessness,” Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a statement. “This is a significant accomplishment for the region and our partners. It takes all of us working together to meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

The Trent shelter is a component of the city’s effort to relocate people out of the tent city known as Camp Hope at Second Avenue and Ray Street.

It’s unclear how many Camp Hope residents will use the shelter, however.

A survey of Camp Hope residents conducted by the nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands, which has overseen activities at Camp Hope, reported that 51 of the 601 people polled in early July would be willing to go to a shelter, depending on the operator.

Councilman Zack Zappone – who publicly invited Woodward to spend three nights at the newly opened shelter with him, Empire Health Foundation President Zeke Smith and Chris Patterson from Hello for Good, capacity permitting – said he weighed his decision between the need for shelter capacity and concerns with the shelter, such as sustaining the facility’s costs.

“I think we might have to seriously talk to the community about our investment as a community in the city and maybe the county about funding homelessness. Maybe that’s a homelessness levy and a public safety levy,” Zappone said. “That’s something we could talk about in the next year.

“I think of opening Trent for the next 16 months as kind of a pilot program. We can see (if this is) going to be used, because that’s kind of the other issue: Will people actually use it?”

City officials earlier this month used phases to describe how the Trent shelter will work.

As part of the first phase, the shelter will open with 150 spaces separated into demographic groupings by approximately 3-foot-high portable partitions. Groupings could include couples, single women, older single men, younger single men and LGBTQ individuals.

John Hall, director of the city’s Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services department, said last week that Trent is expected to have approximately 40 beds available along with a minimum of 100 mats to accommodate immediate needs.

The second phase is thus far tied to state funding, as the city has requested more than $3 million from the state Department of Commerce for operational costs, expenses to build 60 two-person enclosed rooms referred to as “pods” and for other building improvements, such as restroom, shower, laundry, kitchen and office upgrades.

“It will really work if we invest the money for bathrooms and sleeping pods with a door for privacy,” Beggs said. “Everybody wants a door for privacy when they’re changing, when they’re sleeping, and we can do that affordably.”

Hall said Monday he believes the city should have everything in order to actually start, “probably after Labor Day.”

The City Council voted 5-2 on Monday to approve the Guardians contract, with council members Michael Cathcart and Karen Stratton opposed.

Cathcart, who did not explain his vote during the meeting, released a statement afterward, saying his vote “should not be construed as opposition to the proposed operations provider, service provider or our unhoused community members.”

Rather, Cathcart said he’s concerned with the city’s financial standing and recent council discussions surrounding a proposed public camping enforcement ordinance. A version of the legislation proposes to prohibit camping within three blocks of any congregate shelters, not the half-mile advocated by Cathcart.

“The general public likely hasn’t grasped the severity of the City’s current budget position which could reach $30-50M in potential unfunded expenses,” he said in a statement. “This astronomical and, quite frankly, unknown total combined with the impending if not existing recession, we are not in a strong financial position to make financial commitments of such magnitude without a sustainable funding source at this time.”

If it does open next week, the Trent shelter will do so without a services provider.

Part of the plan with Trent Avenue has been to have an agency provide services such as case management and resources for health care and job training. After several delays with finding a services provider over the past few months, the city opened another request for proposals at the start of August that yielded a bid from only one agency, Hall said: the Revive Center for Returning Citizens.

Revive has proposed offering a suite of services for $3 million centered on the following five “pillars,” Hall said: peer support, behavioral health services, wraparound case management, supported employment services and permanent supportive housing resources.

Hall said the city is in negotiations with Revive about scaling that down to $1.5 million.

“We do not have $3 million,” he said.

From here, the city will prepare a package for the City Council’s consideration that will include a potential contract, additional details about the services offered and identified potential funding sources, Hall said.

Funding for the Trent shelter is a big question mark – particularly after the end of next year.

At the moment, the city is looking at potentially funding the shelter’s first year and four months through a mix of federal American Rescue Plan funding, state dollars through the Department of Commerce and local funds through the city’s criminal justice fund and local housing sales tax revenue.

“This contract is through December 2023. I want to let people know there is no money after 2023, so sustainability is critical with what we do after 2023,” Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said. “It’s the cliff – we’re calling it the cliff. What will we do then after December 2023?”

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she believes it’s important for the Trent shelter to move forward, “cliff” notwithstanding.

“We have people who have no place to go and winter’s coming as it does every year,” she said. “In all good conscience, we can’t turn this down.”

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