Backlash against plans to transform a Sunset Highway hotel into emergency housing has a few Spokane City Council members interested in reopening talks about how to spend state funding on efforts to relocate people out of an east Spokane tent city.
The city submitted a series of proposals last month to the state Department of Commerce, which has offered approximately $24.3 million through the state’s Rights of Way initiative to support solutions for relocating the hundreds in the encampment on state land, also known as Camp Hope.
To date, the Department of Commerce has only committed to funding two components of the spending proposal. One of those is Catholic Charities Eastern Washington’s plans, dubbed the Catalyst Project, to purchase the Quality Inn on Sunset Highway to house 100 to 120 adults not as a walkup shelter, but through referral from local community partners.
Over the last few weeks, however, the Spokane City Council has fielded numerous concerns from West Hills Neighborhood residents who, blindsided by the Quality Inn project, have expressed concerns about that and other proposed homeless housing initiatives for that area.
In light of those concerns, Councilman Michael Cathcart drafted a letter asking the Department of Commerce to “reopen” Spokane’s Rights of Way funding discussion “to ensure all voices are heard,” according to the letter.
The draft was brought forward Monday by Cathcart for discussion during the council’s Public Safety and Community Health meeting.
Asked what these discussions would look like, Cathcart said Tuesday he envisions two different meetings to start, preferably in public: one with the City Council, mayor, Department of Commerce, local providers and neighborhood representatives; and another with the council, mayor, Commerce and representatives from surrounding jurisdictions on a regional approach.
“I’m not necessarily asking anything stops, comes to a halt. I don’t think there’s any language in the letter that says that,” Cathcart said, “but, really, just let’s have a conversation.”
The Department of Commerce issued a response to Cathcart’s letter, saying community members should continue to express their concerns on the city’s Rights of Way plan with city and county officials.
“Commerce will continue to be at the table with local leaders on the plan put forward by the city. Spokane County, unfortunately, has not engaged with us,” officials said in the statement. “It’s worth reminding that this is a statewide public safety initiative. The process of cleaning up and successfully relocating people to better, safer housing options is underway in other counties as well.”
The letter is not representative of the entire City Council, nor would it go through a traditional pass/fail process, Cathcart said. Rather, council members would have the opportunity to sign onto the letter.
Cathcart said he hopes the reopened discussion on the Rights of Way funding would include council members, representatives from any and all neighborhoods that might be impacted and service providers. He also envisions these talks as a “regional conversation,” saying the issues involving Camp Hope are not the city’s alone. Cathcart is the Republican candidate in the Spokane County District 2 commissioner’s race in Novemember.
“Most importantly, I think we have heard a lot of concerns from folks who don’t feel like they’re being heard,” he said. “Not saying any outcomes would be guaranteed to change, but I think that they deserve a voice and I think that it makes sense that we reengage and have this broad-based conversation.”
Along with Cathcart, only Councilman Jonathan Bingle offered verbal support for the letter Monday.
Others sounded off with reservations.
“It feels a little disingenuous to ask for help, but say, ‘No, we don’t want that kind of help; we want it done this way,’ ” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear. “Again, it puts the council squarely in the middle of something that’s very controversial.”
The Department of Commerce initially announced Spokane’s funding eligibility in June, setting a 10-day deadline for funding applications before later extending that to 30 days. Spokane County’s application was prepared in a coordinated effort by the city, county, Spokane Housing Authority and other public and private partners.
“Things had to move quickly, which is frustrating that 30 days is the timeline that we were given when probably more time should’ve been given to this discussion,” Bingle said.
Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said she doubts anything would change with another conversation.
“I don’t think there would be any other different outcomes than what there are now because that train has truly left the station and there’s no going back,” Wilkerson said. “The biggest challenge that we have as a city, council and administration, is making sure these people are getting the right information because the information out there is inflammatory.”
Councilwoman Karen Stratton said the issue is compounded by Catholic Charities Eastern Washington’s plans for “House of Charity 2.0” to relocate the current House of Charity to a larger campus outside of downtown Spokane.
House of Charity 2.0 was not included in the Rights of Way funding application. Likewise, the project is separate from the plans for the Quality Inn.
Around an hour after the council’s committee meeting Monday, Catholic Charities issued a news release stating the organization is expanding the search for the suitable 3- to 5-acre site for the House of Charity 2.0 campus.
Back when the project was announced during Mayor Nadine Woodward’s State of the City address in April, Catholic Charities CEO and President Rob McCann said the organization had three possible locations in mind.
Catholic Charities, which reportedly has been evaluating possible locations outside of downtown for nearly a year, decided to expand the search area to explore locations that “would be better suited to meet the individualized needs of those in our community facing homelessness,” the organization said in a statement.
Representatives said Catholic Charities is not at this time considering any sites owned by the organization for House of Charity 2.0.
“The ideal site for House of Charity 2.0 will be easy to access by a short bus ride with frequent service, have sufficient space to create a dignified and peaceful environment, and not located in a primarily residential neighborhood,” the statement read. “Our development team is working diligently to find possible locations throughout our region. We continue to explore possible locations and will publicize once a suitable site is selected.”