Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state officials heralded the opening of the much anticipated, and at times controversial, hotel-turned-supportive housing project in the West Hills neighborhood on Monday as a crucial step forward for establishing housing for homeless people in Spokane and across the state.
“This is exactly what we need,” Inslee told a group of a few dozen reporters, government employees and social workers at the facility, located at 4301 W. Sunset Blvd. “This Catalyst facility is not a Band-Aid. It is not sweeping people under the rug. It is addressing their permanent long-term problems so that they can be permanently housed, and that is what we need across the state of Washington.”
The facility, which will be run by Catholic Charities, will open on Wednesday and begin to intake new residents on Thursday, said Dawn Kinder, the organization’s chief stabilization officer. Catholic Charities is in the process of accepting referrals from Camp Hope, she said.
Catholic Charities CEO Rob McCann marked the opening as “a day of celebration.”
The Catalyst Project was one of several projects included in the city of Spokane’s application for $24.3 million aimed at relocating some of the people living at Camp Hope, the homeless encampment in the East Central neighborhood that was established on Department of Transportation property one year ago last week. The state awarded $14.8 million in funds for the Catalyst Project.
“There are a lot of frustrations that Camp Hope hasn’t been resolved faster, but this has been really an important step in the right direction and we have funded other steps in the right direction that are going to become obvious in the days ahead,” Commerce Director Lisa Brown said on Monday. There were 433 residents at the camp, according to the Department of Transportation’s most recent count.
“It’s not just about a bed,” Brown said. “It’s about the support that moves and individual that moves an individual from homelessness – sometimes chronic, long-term homelessness – into stability.”
More than just amenities
The former Quality Inn was recently redesigned to fit up to 100 people . Each room includes a bed, TV, fridge, microwave and some other small furniture items.
Inslee praised the building’s emphasis on private rooms, which were available to singles and couples alike.
“It takes not only mental health professionals, but a secure, private place to live so you can get your feet beneath you,” he said.
A kitchen will provide three meals per day to residents.
The building also includes office spaces on all of its floors for mental health specialists, behavioral health specialists, case workers, “peer support navigators” and other Catholic Charities staff.
“The hardest part in this particular building is not having those community spaces,” Kinder said. “Trying to create little pockets where people can build connections with each other outside of their private rooms has been a push. So we’ve repurposed landings on staircases to try and get there, we’ve repurposed the dining room with large TV so we can do football parties and holiday parties and give people a space to actually engage with one another.”
There are no time constraints for the residents staying in the building, but it is not intended to be a permanent home, according to Catholic Charities.
Some people may leave in 30 days, others may take as long as 130 days, Kinder said.
The facility will begin intake on Thursday morning as new residents are scheduled for a two-hour intake throughout the day, she said. The facility won’t likely be at capacity until the first week of January, she said.
Nonservice -related animals are not allowed at the facility, but Kinder said the facility would not completely rule out other pets.
Residents are required to commit to a “good neighbor agreement,” which prohibits drug or alcohol use on the property and requires participation in services to help them move forward, according to Catholic Charities own description of the facility.
There are some behavioral expectations around safety at the building. Residents who don’t comply with those expectations will be connected with other resources and removed from the building, Kinder said.
The facility has drawn the ire of some West Hills residents who worry that it will bring criminal activity to the area. About a dozen people stood outside the facility on Monday with signs protesting the governor’s visit.
“West Hills is not a Shelter Ghetto,” said one sign carried by a man who was directing comments to the building with a loudspeaker.
Criminal records do not exclude residents from living at the Catalyst Project, but “frequent or recent violent, criminal behaviors” are not considered a “good fit” for the facility, according to Catholic Charities.
McCann said neighbors in the West Hills will have access to a phone number they can call if there is any suspicious activity at the facility and a 24-hour, two-person, on-site security team will respond.
“Security is obviously important for this population because there is a criminal element that preys on the homeless,” McCann said. “They are human traffickers, they are drug dealers, they are criminals.”
The building will use a surveillance system that can filter out residents and nonresidents, he said.
“You can’t get into the property unless you’re a resident,” he said.
While state officials celebrated the opening of the facility, Brown cautioned that the facility is only “one piece of the puzzle” to addressing homelessness in Spokane County.
“The real answer here is that we continue to look for solutions,” she said. “The long -term solution is behavioral (health) and more housing and supportive solutions.”
Inslee affirmed his commitment to investing in homelessness solutions in the coming year.
“You are going to see very significant ambition and an aggressive approach to this statewide,” he said. “I am very hopeful the Legislature will join me in upping our game in this regard, because the existing funding is not adequate to solve this problem. In the upcoming legislative session you are going to see some big asks of the Legislature and the people of state of Washington to tackle this problem.”
The issue will also require lawmakers in Washington to address the “fundamental” housing shortage across Washington, Inslee said.