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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Costs of two-week shelter begin to add up; Spokane faces $500,000 bill for emergency program

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 two-week temporary homeless shelter will likely cost the city of Spokane more than $500,000.

The City Council on Monday approved a round of contracts to pay for the shelter at the Spokane Convention Center, including $136,000 for the nonprofit that oversaw it.

In total, the city is expected to request that the council pull up to $270,000 from city reserves, in addition to the $300,000 already budgeted for emergency shelter expenses, to pay for the shelter it opened in the convention center during a cold snap late last year and into the first week of 2022.

Overnight use fluctuated between 103 to 343 guests, but the city has not released an exact number of people who used the shelter. There was no curfew, and guests could come and go as they pleased.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear asked for a comparison of the emergency shelter costs to that of existing shelters, like the city-owned facility on Cannon Street.

“The per-person cost of this is, whoa, way off the charts,” Kinnear said.

The city expects to pay the Spokane Public Facilities District, which operates the Convention Center, a base rent of $66,000, plus an estimated $110,000 to repair damage left in the shelter’s wake.

The damage has been a point of contention between the administration and members of City Council.

City officials have outlined how the convention center’s carpeting and bathrooms were damaged during its use as a shelter.

Carpet cleaning has begun but will take a few weeks, according to Stephanie Curran, CEO of the public facilities district. There were over 80 banquet chairs used as toilets, according to Curran, and the public facilities district is in the process of replacing them.

When asked if there were adequate bathroom facilities to serve the hundreds of people who used the shelter, Curran explained to The Spokesman-Review that “unfortunately they damaged the bathrooms right away, so we had to lock them and bring in port-a-potties.”

City council members asked for an itemized list of the damages and delayed a vote on approving a contract with the Public Facilities District until one is provided.

The administration has pointed to the damage as evidence that the unsheltered population is difficult to serve, while council members have questioned the administration’s ability to plan for emergency shelter and questioned why it used a carpeted space.

The Guardians will be paid $136,000 for its role managing the temporary shelter, and the city will also pay ISS Facility Services $50,000 for the custodial services it provided while the shelter was open.

A city law adopted by the City Council dictates when an emergency shelter must open, but the administration controls where it is located and how it is operated.

City law requires there to be emergency shelter whenever the temperature is forecast to be below 32 degrees and low-barrier shelters have averaged 90% capacity.

The city closed the temporary shelter not because those conditions changed, but because the facility was no longer available.

The administration continues to plan to open an emergency shelter, which will cost additional money.

“You will see those cost estimates coming forward as well,” Tonya Wallace, the city’s chief financial officer, told the council on Monday.

The location of the next emergency shelter has yet to be decided, but it appears the convention center ballroom is no longer an option.

“I would definitely never use ballrooms or other carpeted areas as a shelter in the future,” Curran said. “We knew this was probably not a good idea but it was the only space we had and the alternative was people freezing on our streets.”