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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lerria Schuh: Shelter needs proper baselines to ensure success

By Lerria Schuh

By Lerria Schuh

Baseline expectations set the bar for quality. Without baselines, decisions are often made through the easiest route to completion. During the June 6 Spokane Public Safety Committee meeting, presenters Eric Finch, Spokane Interim Director of Neighborhoods, Housing and Human Services, and Johnnie Perkins, Spokane city administrator, outlined proposal details for the Trent Avenue homeless shelter. The proposal appears to be the easiest route to completion, lacking a baseline of quality and service care.

To begin, the Guardians are the “preferred service provider.” Details regarding staffing levels and cost were not provided during this presentation. The Guardians are the same service provider that was in place at the Convention Center when hundreds of houseless sought shelter from the cold this past winter. Damage occurred on-site, and to this day no public questions have been directed at the Guardians regarding their management techniques and how the damage occurred without their staff intervening. At baseline, the Guardians must have the skills and capacity to manage hundreds of people in one location. Based on the last experience with the city, it appears perhaps they do not.

No mention was made of meal service or an on-site kitchen. Baseline for human survival should be healthy and fresh food and water. No food services are available in the Trent Avenue neighborhood or within walking distance.

No bathrooms or showers exist at the Trent property. Baseline for human hygiene should be daily showers and clean access to toilet and hand-washing facilities. When asked, presenters stated that bathrooms and showers would be part of phase 2, although they could not confirm estimated cost or when phase 2 would begin. For the initial phase of the shelter, up to 250 people would be encouraged to utilize a total of four shower stalls in an outdoor shower trailer. Port-a-potties would be brought in for restroom use, but no indication of how many, how often they would be cleaned, etc. If 250 people were allowed 10 minutes to shower it would take more than 10 hours to shower all guests. Baseline should be for half that time to encourage daily hygiene. If only four shower stalls are acceptable, it is unlikely a quality baseline of toilets will be provided.

According to the June 6 presentation, local service providers will be on-site including mental health and addiction treatment services. However, when asked, the presenters confirmed they have not talked to any service providers about whether or not they would agree to being on-site or have the capacity to be on-site. This is a critical point for two reasons: 1) service providers need to express whether or not they can be successful in a warehouse environment, what their needs may be and any related expenses, and 2) the city is currently reviewing budget proposals to keep several local service providers open and not reduce bed space. Additional capacity by service providers to send staff to the Trent Avenue location is critical to ensure quality wrap-around services are available on-site. If service providers are requesting funds to stay open, the added capacity may not be available.

During any period of time wrap-around services are not on-site (which presenters agreed would be the case initially), guests of the Trent Avenue shelter could be bused to Canon Street shelter to talk to providers who are there. No mention was made regarding busing cost or the feasibility that Canon Street shelter has the capacity to serve any additional guests.

No laundry facilities at the Trent Avenue location. Baseline should be to provide laundry facilities for hygiene needs. Again presenters suggested that houseless guests could be bused to Canon Street shelter to use those facilities. No mention made of cost or Canon Street capacity. With only a few machines on-site, it unlikely there is capacity.

The Trent proposal is the easiest route to completion, but lacks a quality baseline strategy for assisting houseless to become healthy and housed. Spokane deserves a plan that will provide houseless a safe, welcoming environment that will assist each individual on their path to transitional and permanent housing. Baseline includes quality shelter, food, hygiene facilities and specialty services caring for each individual’s needs.

It is 2022. There is an abundance of data and stories across the globe of what successful reduction of houseless communities looks like. We have yet to hear the city talk about what proven strategies they are employing and why.

What is Spokane quality baseline? It matters.

Lerria Schuh, of Spokane, is executive director of the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund and secretary/treasurer of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.

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