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State awards Catholic Charities $6.5 million to buy Sunset Highway motel as part of Camp Hope relocation efforts

July 22, 2022 Updated Fri., Aug. 5, 2022 at 10:56 a.m.

The state Department of Commerce has awarded up to $6.5 million to Catholic Charities Eastern Washington to purchase the Quality Inn on Sunset Highway for emergency supportive housing for homeless people.

The project was one of several included in the city of Spokane’s proposal to spend upwards of $24 million in state funds to relocate hundreds living in the homeless encampment at East Second Avenue and Ray Street, also known as Camp Hope.

The Department of Commerce announced the $6.5 million award to Catholic Charities on Friday. The award is the only one to date for projects outlined in Spokane’s proposal.

Tedd Kelleher, managing director of the Housing Assistance Unit at the Department of Commerce, said the Department of Commerce felt the Catholic Charities proposal was a “lower risk, higher reward” project that the state could fund immediately given Gov. Jay Inslee’s direction to relocate people out of state rights of way as quickly as possible.

In particular, the project was “clearly one that fit well with the funding and the goal of the funding,” he said. Acquiring and remodeling motels or similar buildings for emergency housing is “a proven model” that’s much quicker than starting from scratch with constructing a new building, Kelleher said.

“Based on our conversations, there seems to be more community agreement on this proposal,” he said. “It’s one that there’s not a lot of controversy around.”

Asked what that community feedback was based on, Kelleher cited conversations with the city, providers and community members, particularly state Commerce employees who live in Spokane.

The Catholic Charities project, known as the Catalyst Project, was included in the city’s proposal submitted July 13 for an initial 30% of the $24 million.

The Catalyst Project would have 87 rooms that include beds and bathrooms, 14 of which would be for couples, according to a project description. The converted motel would be open to men and women.

The Commerce funding award dictates these rooms must be prioritized “to house people from state rights of way, but available to house other people with low incomes if the Department determines units are not needed for people living on state rights of way.”

Care services would include connections to behavioral health, primary care and public benefits, according to the Catholic Charities document. The site would also be monitored by a 24/7 security team, while residents would be expected to abide by a Good Neighbor Agreement.

According to the city’s proposal, Catholic Charities has committed to acquiring and rehabbing the motel within 90 days of the funding award.

The Catholic Charities project summary indicated that while the Catalyst Project is emergency housing, “it is not a walkup shelter, nor will it offer walkup services.”

Rooms would only be available through referral from local community partners for quick access when a person has no housing, according to the organization.

“The time that guests may stay in this housing is not limited, but it is not intended to be a permanent home,” the summary reads. “Instead, it offers essential amenities, such as safe, private, dignified spaces where people may temporarily live while searching and preparing for permanent housing.”

When reached Friday night, a Catholic Charities spokesperson said the organization was preparing a statement and information for release Monday.

The Department of Commerce has previous experience with Catholic Charities as a provider, given that the organization has received Housing Trust Fund money in the past.

“We know that they can do this work, so we went ahead,” he said. “There’s always some risk with all of these endeavors, but when we’re balancing setting aside from our normal processes and trade for going more quickly, this is definitely a lower-risk piece that feel we can move forward on.”

The Department of Commerce sought proposals from five counties, including Spokane, through the Rights of Way initiative, offering shares of $144 million toward relocating people out of state rights of way and into better living situations. Spokane leaders submitted their proposal Thursday for the full $24.3 million offered by the Department of Commerce.

Camp Hope, with more than 600 residents, is regarded as the largest of such encampments on any right of way in the state.

“We’re likely to move on pieces separately. We’re not going to award everything all at once,” Kelleher said. “We don’t want to delay on things that we can move forward on immediately.”

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