The city of Spokane has submitted its ideas on how to spend $24.3 million in state funds to create new housing options and pathways for the hundreds living in the Camp Hope homeless encampment at East Second Avenue and Ray Street.
The Department of Commerce funding is available through the Rights of Way initiative, a $144 million program for five counties aimed at relocating people out of state rights of way and into better living situations.
Camp Hope – which, reportedly home to more than 600 people, is regarded as the largest homeless encampment on any right of way in the state – is located on state Department of Transportation land next to Interstate 90.
“We relied on previous collaborations and plans already in place to grow and build new partnerships that will move individuals from an inhumane outdoor environment into safe and healthy spaces,” Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a statement. “Working together, we came up with a very solid, comprehensive plan in a very short amount of time.”
Spokane officials announced the city’s submission for the Commerce funding in a release Thursday that summarized some inclusions, but did not include the proposal itself.
Notable ideas in the full proposal, which was obtained by The Spokesman-Review, include the acquisition and rehabilitation of the Quality Inn on Sunset Boulevard, several provisions for the developing East Trent Avenue homeless shelter including 60 two-person pods, an RV park rental assistance program and increasing the number of beds at existing shelters.
The East Trent shelter is expected to open in August, according to the city’s release Thursday. The Spokane City Council will hear a presentation Monday from the city administration about a potential contract with the shelter’s operator, the Guardians Foundation, as well as a status report on the search for a services provider.
The city’s submission to the Department of Commerce is divided into three categories.
Category 1 items have full approval from all regional jurisdictions involved in creating the plan, according to the proposal. Category 2 items are supported by some, but not all, jurisdictions. Category 3 strategies either have only individual agency support and approval, or they are relatively new additions to the proposal still under review.
Strategies outlined as Category 1 items would cost an estimated $23.9 million to house 653 people, over 500 within the first 90 days of funding. That’s higher than the approximately 600 people reported in the latest count of Camp Hope residents, though short of the 823 unsheltered individuals identified in the latest point-in-time census of homeless individuals across Spokane County.
Adding in Category 2 items would create enough housing to clear that point-in-time number, driving the total state investment up to around $29.4 million to house 847 people. That’s $5.1 million more than what’s earmarked through the Department of Commerce funding.
Accomplishing the projects in all three categories would cost approximately $34.5 million to house 1,447 people, according to the plan.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said part of the reason Spokane’s application proposes projects above and beyond the $24.3 million is to ensure the city receives the full amount.
Another reason was the challenge of finding consensus among the local leaders who put the plan together, he said.
“If Commerce doesn’t want to fund Trent, that’s several million dollars, and we don’t want to lose that money,” he said. “Commerce is going to pick and choose what they want, and they don’t probably care too much about whether something’s categorized as 1, 2 or 3.
“Many of us have been saying, for a few weeks now, we need a lot more than $24 million,” Beggs said.
City leaders and staff worked with Spokane County, Spokane Valley and the Spokane Housing Authority to draft the proposal in just a month.
Given the aggressive timeline, Woodward said the proposal is “a fluid plan.”
“It’s a monumental effort to get this done within the parameters that Commerce has filled out that we must meet with this plan as well, so that’s why a lot of things have come in last minute, because somebody will think of something and we haven’t had as much discussion,” she said. “At least Commerce has indicated a willingness to consider things.”
While generally supportive of the city’s proposal, county and Spokane Valley leaders have expressed concerns with the funding process, with some criticizing the state’s timeline and questioning the long-term sustainability of the proposed solutions.
Meanwhile, several groups identified to provide certain services with the proposal say they either haven’t been approached by the city or they haven’t formally signed off on participating. This despite Spokane officials representing to the state that agreements were in progress with those agencies.
Thursday was the deadline for submissions from the five counties in line for Rights of Way funding.
Here’s a breakdown of the city’s proposal:
Sunset Highway motel rehab
Earlier this month, the city submitted a spending plan for the initial approximately 30% in funds, proposing to use $7.5 million for assessments and case management of Camp Hope residents, purchasing and rehabilitating a Sunset Highway motel for affordable housing, and for transitional living pods at the Trent shelter.
As proposed, Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington would purchase and rehabilitate the Quality Inn motel on Sunset Boulevard for 88 units to house 100 to 120 people within 90 days of funding.
The plan proposes for Catholic Charities to use $6.5 million, as requested in the application for 30% initial funding, for acquisition, initial improvements and immediate housing.
An additional $7.3 million in state funds would be used for further improvements and conversion into permanent supportive housing on a rolling basis. The rehabilitation is estimated to cost $1.8 million of the $7.3 million.
Once converted to permanent supportive housing, operational costs are expected to “come down dramatically,” according to the proposal.
East Trent Avenue shelter
The $13.8 million allocated to the proposed Catholic Charities plan makes up more than half of the $23.9 million in solutions proposed under Category 1.
The city also requested $1 million toward funding to support physical improvements to the city’s developing East Trent Avenue homeless shelter, including 60 two-person “pods.”
The Trent shelter has been proposed to provide 150 to 250 beds with surge capacity in case of emergencies, such as excessive heat and smoke. Beggs equated the pods to the design used at the Way Out Shelter.
“It’s kind of like a dorm room. They are inside the warehouse, so they don’t have roofs over them,” he said. “It’d be functionally like a pallet shelter with two people, but it’s just cheaper because they don’t have to be weatherized and you don’t have to have separate power lines to it.”
With 120 beds provided by the pods, the city proposes to provide grouping another 120 shelter beds through “communal living pods” within the facility.
These living pods would, according to the city’s release, “group individuals with an established community into a couple dozen.” City spokesman Brian Coddington said the concept allows small communities that have formed at Camp Hope to potentially move into the shelter intact with the goal of transitioning to more individualized housing down the line.
A poll conducted by Jewels Helping Hands, the nonprofit that has overseen activities at Camp Hope, reported all of the residents at the encampment would use a pallet shelter or tiny home. Only 51 of 601, however, said they would use a shelter, depending on the operator.
“If you think about our weather, pallet homes are not really suitable for the outdoors in our weather, especially if there’s no heat or cooling options, there’s no running water,” Woodward said. “I think what’s important to the people that we’re hearing from is they want a front door and they want privacy. This is a state alternative to give them that privacy.”
The remainder of that $1 million is requested for for restroom, shower and Americans with Disabilities Act-related improvements as well as laundry, kitchen and office upgrades.
Other category 1 funding strategies related to the Trent shelter include $700,000 toward establishing ongoing services and case management as a “point of transition” from onsite assessments.
Rental assistance at RV campgrounds
The city is seeking $250,000 in state funds to set up an RV park rental assistance pilot program.
The program would provide rental assistance at RV campgrounds to the first 25 working RVs to pay a “declining percentage of space fees” over a one-year period, according to the proposal. A small fund would be created to assist in emergency repairs using automotive school organizations.
Woodward, who has opposed previous drive-in options to address homelessness, said she would support the program since the parks could provide people living out of their RVs with appropriate infrastructure, such as power and sewer hookups.
“That way we’re not concentrating vehicles,” she said. “We are offering options for them, but scattered within existing sites and campgrounds.”
Needs assessments need work
Part of the city’s ask for 30% initial funding included money for assessments of Camp Hope residents to determine their immediate needs and readiness for certain services, such as housing, employment support and behavioral health.
The city’s full proposal submitted Thursday was slightly different in language: While indicating the United Way of Spokane County would coordinate multiple providers, the actual providers themselves were not listed as they were in the July 13 proposal.
That submission listed 10 agencies that the city is “in progress” with on agreements to provide those services, according to the document.
That includes Compassionate Addiction Treatment (CAT). CAT came up with the bulk of the idea for a multi-agency assessments process as something of a “cocktail napkin proposal,” having reached out to providers the agency has collaborated with about potential interest, said Executive Director Hallie Burchinal.
”We reached out to the city,” Burchinal said. “The city didn’t reach out to us.”
At some point, the city moved to put the United Way in charge of coordinating services. Burchinal said no meetings took place to figure out what that coordination of services would look like, while Revive was “kept completely in the dark” with the other processes involved in the Rights of Way initiative funding.
Burchinal said CAT was emailed by the United Way last week about providing a letter of support for the city’s proposal. Burchinal, who never saw a proposal until the 30% funding submission was published by the media earlier this week, said she declined to sign a letter.
”Regardless of the city administration continuing to fracture the work and keep people siloed and outside of communication with each other, I would love the community to know there is a large group of nonprofits, agencies and businesses committed to working together to create positive change,” Burchinal said.
Lisa Curtis, marketing and communications director for the Spokane County United Way, said the city has been in conversation with the United Way since June for the agency’s Functional Zero Initiatives program to coordinate an intake and assessment process related to the Rights of Way initiative funding.
”Thus far, Spokane County United Way’s role has been collaborating with community providers to integrate a multi-agency response and an equitable intake and assessment process to match individuals living at Camp Hope with available housing interventions,” Curtis said in a statement. “Available housing interventions are still being identified.”
The Spokesman-Review reached out Thursday to all of the agencies identified in the proposal as having agreements “in progress” to verify the status of those agreements.
Here were their responses:
• Frontier Behavioral Health has not been approached by the city about Camp Hope, said Public Information Officer Carla Sivalli.
• Jewels Helping Hands, which was contacted by the city about the assessments, did not provide a letter of support since the city “failed to tell us what we were supporting,” said Executive Director Julie Garcia. Garcia, who claims the city has kept Jewels and other groups out of the loop, said she would be willing to help with the assessments, but only after the basic needs of those living at Camp Hope are met. “JHH can not be expected to continue to fund this camp without help from the city who is the direct cause of its growth.”
• Providence is not part of the proposal to provide assessments and case management to people at Camp Hope, said Communication Manager Ariana Lake. She said Providence was “mistakenly listed in the proposal submitted.”
• Revive Counseling Spokane has not been asked to assess the Camp Hope community even though the agency reached out multiple times expressing interest and scope of services, said Clinical Director Layne Pavey. Pavey said Revive and Jewels Helping Hands have conducted Camp Hope assessments for enrollment into their own programs. “It was news to us to see our name listed in the paper earlier this week as a supporting service provider.”
• Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners submitted a proposal for assessment and placement services last month, offering to provide on-site outreach, diversion and assessments of single persons at Camp Hope, said spokesperson Nicole Bishop. Another letter was sent to the United Way on Wednesday expressing this as well. “We have over 55 years of experience in serving Spokane County residents across various states of crisis, guiding them through to stability. We want to be a part of this solution.”
• The Spokane Regional Health District has not been contacted by the city on a possible agreement to help with assessments specifically for the transition, said spokesperson Kelli Hawkins. The health district is conducting weekly testing and vaccination clinics at Camp Hope, Hawkins said.
CHAS Health and Wear Law Office did not respond to a request for comment.
While he’s unsure where the communication broke down, Beggs said more work appears needed to hash out how the assessments are going to work.
”What Commerce has told us is they’re going to pick and choose what they want to fund,” he said, “and if they fund something, then the next thing they’ll decide is should the city be the lead on it or should Commerce contract directly with these organizations.”
Other Category 1 concepts include:
• $1.8 million to add permanent supporting housing units to Hope House, with 10 units within two months and another 15 within six months.
• Just under $1.9 million to expand Salvation Army Spokane’s Way Out Shelter to take on individuals referred through the Rights of Way initiative and house another 42 people through transitional housing.
• $261,000 for 20 additional beds at the Truth Ministries shelter in east Spokane.
• $120,000 to set up transportation services with the Spokane Transit Authority to loop three times per day between Camp Hope, shelters and services providers.
• $100,000 for family reunification services.
Concepts under categories 2 and 3 include:
• $2.4 million to support operations at the Trent shelter.
• Just under $2.3 million for pallet shelter villages totaling 75 units to house 125 residents as proposed by the Empire Health Foundation, which is willing to dedicate 3 acres of land owned by the foundation along Sunset Highway for the project.
• $5 million to cover the remaining cost needed for two affordable housing projects identified by Spokane County to create about 400 affordable housing units.
While other local jurisdictions took part in creating a plan, the city of Spokane has taken the lead with the proposal.
Spokane County commissioners sent the Department of Commerce a letter Tuesday acknowledging that the city of Spokane will take the lead on any funding awarded through the Rights of Way initiative.
In doing so, county commissioners also outlined their concerns with the proposal process and the developing plans to relocate people out of Camp Hope. Namely, commissioners wrote they believe the timeline for the Rights of Way funding is “unrealistic” given the state’s expectations and the breadth of the issue, according to the letter.
“Homelessness and the need for temporary, transitional, and permanent affordable housing units is an ongoing issue that the region has been grappling with for several years,” commissioners wrote, “so it is disheartening to see that the State seems to think this issue may be addressed in the span of less than one month.”
Beyond the timing, county commissioners also stated their concerns with enforcement and funding sustainability. With the latter, county commissioners said the city’s proposal would require an additional $14 million per year, at least, in operational costs.
County commissioners recommended for the Department of Commerce to contract directly with providers “to avoid creating additional fiscal responsibility for local jurisdictions.”
“Without firm, clear, and compassionate enforcement new people will move to the campsite as others move off the site and ultimately, we will not accomplish the designed outcomes of Commerce’s (notice of funding opportunity),” commissioners wrote.
Similarly, Spokane Valley Deputy City Manager Erik Lamb said during a recent Spokane Valley City Council meeting he believes the Department of Commerce did not give jurisdictions enough time to come up with an appropriate spending plan.
“You can’t expect to suddenly house 600 people within a matter of days,” Lamb said.
Spokesman-Review reporter Colin Tiernan contributed to this report.