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‘It’s the same pushback’: Plans for Hillyard homeless shelter promptly axed over neighborhood opposition

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 22, 2022

The Spokane Convention Center is shown earlier this winter when it was used as an emergency homeless shelter because of a cold snap. A plan for a temporary homeless shelter in Hillyard was abandoned by Mayor Nadine Woodward on Monday amid fierce neighborhood opposition.  (Jordan Tolley-Turner/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Convention Center is shown earlier this winter when it was used as an emergency homeless shelter because of a cold snap. A plan for a temporary homeless shelter in Hillyard was abandoned by Mayor Nadine Woodward on Monday amid fierce neighborhood opposition. (Jordan Tolley-Turner/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW / The Spokesman-Review)

A nascent plan for a temporary homeless shelter in Hillyard was abandoned by Mayor Nadine Woodward on Monday amid fierce and rapid neighborhood opposition.

The temporary structure could have brought more than 100 people in from the cold weather this week, according to Woodward, but neighbors quickly rallied against the proposal.

The situation left Woodward exasperated.

“Nobody wants a shelter next to where they live, or where their children go to school, or where their parent lives. It’s the same pushback no matter where you try to put something,” Woodward said.

About 20 to 30 business and community leaders met with City Council Members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle, who represent the area, to voice their concerns on Monday.

Cathcart said he was grateful the mayor abandoned the plan.

“I shared many of the concerns that many of the community had shared with regard to proximity to youth activities,” Cathcart said.

That includes Dynamic Athletic Center, a gym that serves about 900 kids of varying ages every week, said coach Tabitha Ward.

“We don’t know the dangers that a camp like that brings,” Ward said. “You don’t know anything about the people that are moving in there.”

Ward worried that parents would be hesitant to send their kids to the center given its proximity to the shelter, which would be about a block away.

Woodward has faced pressure from homeless advocates and the City Council to open an emergency shelter, which is required by city law when existing shelters are at or near capacity and temperatures dip below freezing. But the mayor has pointed to challenges in finding a shelter space that won’t draw the ire of nearby residents.

“This has been something that I’ve had to address every single time we try to locate a facility for homeless (people),” Woodward said.

The shelter would have been on North Florida Street at a city-owned property used by the Streets Department for storage known as “the ranch.”

The city planned to erect a temporary structure at the site that would have fit 140 cots. The structure would have been heated, with free meals and portable toilets available for guests.

The site is surrounded by fencing, and the city planned to hire security and boost police patrols in the area.

“We were ready to put something up this week,” Woodward said.

Instead, the city announced Monday that it will make 40 additional hotel rooms available due to this week’s bitter cold weather, doubling the hotel space that it had already funded for the winter.

The city also contracted with Union Gospel Mission to make 14 additional emergency beds available for women.

The National Weather Service predicts that low temperatures will remain below 15 degrees until Sunday morning.

Opponents to the proposed Hillyard shelter noted that it was not connected to a bus line and not close to social services.

Paul Hamilton, an insurance agent in Hillyard and longtime board member of the Northeast Community Center, worried that medical calls to the shelter would tax the resources of the already-busy Spokane Fire Department station nearby.

“We’re very pleased that the administration and our City Council members, Bingle and Cathcart, were very supportive of our objections to the deal,” Hamilton said.

The Hillyard proposal is dead, but the right place for an emergency shelter remains unclear.

Woodward noted how few properties meet the parameters required for public approval – far from businesses, schools and residences.

“This is something we work on every single day. The majority of my time is spent on this issue. And even the people who write or are willing to admit that they don’t want it in their neighborhood also fully acknowledge how difficult it is to try to address this issue,” Woodward said.

Cathcart acknowledged those constraints and suggested that a supportable project would include a “good neighbor agreement” that sets expectations for the relationship between the shelter and its neighbors.

“There’s lot of those boxes to check. Where that specific site is in the city, I don’t have an answer,” Cathcart said.

Despite the setback this week, Woodward said her administration continues to make progress on a separate plan for a new, permanent homeless shelter. The city has yet to reveal that location.

Even those who opposed Woodward’s plan for an emergency shelter have sympathy for her.

“We’re in support of solutions, but Nadine’s been pushed into a corner and it’s just a bugaboo to try to come up with a working solution for what’s going on,” Hamilton said.

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