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What would a homeless shelter operated by The Guardians Foundation look like? The organization pledges long-term support for people and ‘not a warehouse’

The organization in position to operate Spokane’s newest homeless shelter is pledging to help people beyond providing a place to sleep.

“This will not be a warehouse for people,” said Michael Shaw, founder and CEO of The Guardians Foundation, the city administration’s likely recommended pick to run a new shelter on East Trent Avenue. “We’re going to be actively engaged in getting these folks moved in the direction that they need to go. They’re not going to be warehoused.”

A public hearing on the temporary zoning change allowing homeless shelters and other community services to exist in heavy industrial zones is slated for Monday’s Spokane City Council meeting, a change needed to allow the shelter to operate.

The City Council approved the interim zoning change in May. It is scheduled to stay in effect until Nov. 7 unless extended or canceled at a public hearing, according to the city.

The city has earmarked the warehouse, 4320 E. Trent Ave., as a 150- to 250-bed, low-barrier shelter capable of surge capacity and use in emergencies, like heat and smoke. As a low-barrier shelter, East Trent would not require certain qualifications like criminal background checks, sobriety or identification.

The city is hoping to open the shelter around the start of August.

Although the Guardians Foundation is the top choice of city administrators to run the shelter, the pick still must be approved by the City Council.

According to the Guardians’ proposal to operate the shelter, the organization employs a team dedicated to identifying and offering assistance with barriers residents face toward long-term, stable housing.

Shaw acknowledged there could be times when the focus on the long term may need to shift.

“Now, when we go into surges and emergency stuff where we’re over inundated – let’s say it goes up to 300 – yeah, some of that stuff’s going to taper off because we’re more in a crisis mode,” he continued, “but if our number is around 150-200, they’re going to get a lot of attention about how can we get you to where you need to be.”

At their latest meeting last month, council members approved a five-year lease agreement with Lawrence B. Stone Properties 4320, a limited liability corporation run by local developer Larry Stone. Stone declined to comment, deferring to the city as the lessee of the East Trent Avenue facility.

The Guardians Foundation already runs the city’s Cannon Street shelter.

Vying for the contract against Salvation Army Spokane, The Guardians proposal was the highest rated by the review committee that vetted proposals from potential facility operators.

In turn, the city has elected to go with the Salvation Army as the designated provider of services for the facility, such as case management and access to health and job training resources.

Another topic on the agenda for Monday’s meeting would require all future city-funded homeless service provider contracts to include a Good Neighbor Agreement, which are contracts used when homeless services are expanded into a community to help address and solve neighborhood concerns.

Some council members expressed concerns that the Salvation Army has historically not signed Good Neighbor Agreements. Salvation Army Maj. Ken Perrine declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing negotiations with the city.

The Cannon Street Shelter can house just under 100 people and is about 3,500 square feet, Shaw said.

“To go from 3,500 square feet to 33,000 square feet is just an absolute game changer,” he said. “You cannot describe the opportunities to do a better job when you’re not limited.”

The Guardians Foundation also was enlisted this past winter by the city to oversee a temporary warming shelter at the Spokane Convention Center. The warming center resulted in a reported tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the convention center in just two weeks.

“We all learned from that experience, and every time we operate these kinds of services, we learn,” Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said. “I think they have a great track record at Cannon, and what we learned from the Convention Center’s two-week operation, we will apply to the Trent facility with more restrictions about access and what those times are.”

For his part, Shaw has “no idea how that number even happened” in terms of the cost of the damages, saying he’s “still trying to grapple with” how that was determined.

In any case, Shaw said The Guardians Foundation had 48 hours “to fire something up” to run the warming center at the Convention Center. While the agency went in thinking they would service around 100 individuals, Shaw said they hit upwards of 400 users in a matter of days.

“It was a very fluid situation,” he said. “To put anyone in that situation, whether it was The Guardians Foundation or the United States Army, they would still have the same types of issues that we dealt with.”

It’s not accurate to compare what happened there to what the group hopes to achieve with the Trent shelter, he said.

“That was an emergency situation where we were taking anyone in. No matter what their behavior issues were, we’re trying to save lives,” Shaw said. “That was truly a no-barrier shelter, for the most part.”

As proposed, the Trent shelter would serve as a low-barrier shelter with a 1:20 staff-to-guest staffing ratio, not including security staff, according to the Guardian’s plan submitted to the city.

The shelter would serve single adults as well as couples. No minors would be allowed.

Safety requirements “could preclude an individual’s access to the facility,” while the facility will have a zero-tolerance policy regarding violent threats, gross disrespect and alcohol or drug use on the premises.

Intakes would be permitted 24 hours per day, with a designated time set for people to check in and maintain their bed another night. Pets and service animals would be allowed, with Shaw pointing to a “large parking lot” on the property for the pet area and outdoor activities.

“Curfews, we usually go an hour before dusk is when we lock the gates,” he said. “If you decide to leave the shelter after the gates are shut, then you’re probably going to give up your bed for the night.”

Brad Baker, a program manager for The Guardians Foundation who would serve as the Trent facility’s shelter director, added the facility staff would work with anyone leaving after curfew to offer transportation. Accommodations would be made for anyone with situations such as verifiable employment or a medical emergency, he said.

Citing the layout of the Trent Avenue warehouse, The Guardians proposal indicated a need to use portable toilets, a shower trailer and portable washing stations at the start.

“Phase Two is the construction of showers with indoor facilities for toilets and handwashing,” Shaw said. “We don’t have a good handle on Phase Two, but it’s a priority, so we hope to get into Phase Two right away hopefully by fall.”

With security, The Guardians would use parts of the warehouse for storage of residents’ belongings and items construed by staff as weapons. Guests entering the facility would first be scanned by metal detectors.

Shaw said The Guardians requests a presence from the Spokane Police Department with all of their shelters “just to set a tone.” On top of a private security patrol, The Guardians also employs an interior security team as well as an exterior team that’s focused on concerns expressed by the surrounding neighborhood, Shaw said.

“It really is a blank canvas. The world’s our oyster over there,” Shaw said. “There’s no limits on what we can do.

“It’s based on our imagination and best practices to make these people feel welcomed home and cared about and supported so they can hopefully utilize that for wherever they’re headed to get on down the road and figure out what they want to do.”

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