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Frustrated West Hills residents sound off at city meeting on Quality Inn homeless facility

Aug. 31, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 31, 2022 at 9:16 a.m.

Joseph Montes, who lives near the proposed homeless shelter atop Sunset Hill, voices his frustration about Catholic Charities’ plan to transform the Quality Inn into emergency supportive housing on Tuesday evening during an over-capacity community meeting at the Hampton Inn.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Joseph Montes, who lives near the proposed homeless shelter atop Sunset Hill, voices his frustration about Catholic Charities’ plan to transform the Quality Inn into emergency supportive housing on Tuesday evening during an over-capacity community meeting at the Hampton Inn. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A conference room at the Hampton Inn in west Spokane was filled beyond capacity Tuesday night with neighbors around Sunset Highway angry about homeless supportive housing projects that could impact their neighborhood.

Tensions were high during the community meeting that saw Mayor Nadine Woodward and representatives from Catholic Charities Eastern Washington field written and shouted questions on several issues. The chief among those is Catholic Charities’ plan to purchase and convert the Quality Inn on Sunset Highway into 87 rooms for 100 to 120 adults for what’s been called the “Catalyst Project.”

Catholic Charities is in the process of closing out a deal to buy the Quality Inn with funds from the state Commerce Department. Catalyst was one of several projects in the city of Spokane’s application for $24.3 million aimed at relocating people in the Camp Hope homeless encampment on state land in east Spokane.

Jonathan Mallahan, Catholic Charities’ chief housing officer, said Catholic Charities expects to close on the financing for property acquisition Sept. 12. He said Catholic Charities is anticipating an up to 20-year operating contract with the state.

That, and many of Catholic Charities’ responses, were met with boos, jeers, heckling and pleading from a crowd that, by and large, expressed feeling left behind by the process.

The city was required by Commerce to submit a proposal for Rights of Way funding within 30 days, which Woodward has said did not allow enough time for public engagement.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities representatives have said they were contractually bound not to talk about the Quality Inn project, thereby hindering public outreach.

By the end of the meeting, there was talk of the West Hills Neighborhood Council possibly taking the matter to court.

“Here’s what Catholic Charities thinks is going to happen: that they’re going to buy the Quality Inn and we’re all going away,” said Donald “Gib” Brumback, president and founder of Brumback Inc., which neighbors the Quality Inn. “ … I’m telling you, you live here, and I’m just sharing with you: Don’t go away.”

The Catalyst Project will not be a shelter, Catholic Charities Eastern Washington CEO Rob McCann emphasized in a video released Monday.

Catholic Charities has characterized Catalyst as an emergency supportive housing community. The center will not offer walkup services or serve as a walkup shelter; rather, residents will be selected through a referral process and careful screening, with priority to those ready to stabilize their lives, McCann said in his statement.

McCann said Catalyst will have 24/7 security and around 38 staffers, more than any other Catholic Charities housing complex of this size.

Catalyst will offer employment, vocational and life skill services on site, he said. Drugs and alcohol use will not be permitted in or around the Catalyst Project, Catholic Charities says.

“It is not a low-barrier shelter,” said the organization’s Chief Stabilization Officer Dawn Kinder, referencing those facilities that do not require sobriety of guests.

McCann said in his statement anyone who does not meet Catholic Charities’ rules or expectations will be removed.

“This is a moment for our community to embrace strong leadership, the concept of the common good, compassion and common sense,” he said. “We have a homelessness and housing crisis in our region. Catholic Charities is willing to lean into that crisis and help solve it.”

McCann did not speak during Tuesday’s meeting, with Mallahan and Kinder fielding questions on behalf of Catholic Charities.

“I think we have accepted as a community that sometimes, the interests of the marginalized need to be raised up and take precedent,” Mallahan said.

One of the big questions from neighbors: Is it a done deal?

Mallahan re-emphasized the expected closing date for financing. Woodward told neighbors to contact state Commerce Director Lisa Brown.

“I think you need to be talking to the Commerce Department,” Woodward said. “I want to talk to Commerce about this. This was a sloppy, messy deal.”

The Catalyst Project is just one homeless housing project West Hills residents have heard about that, they believe, could impact their neighborhood.

Another, proposed by the Empire Health Foundation in the city’s Rights of Way funding application, calls for 75 tiny home-like units for 125 residents, on 3 acres of foundation-owned land along Sunset Highway.

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