The city of Spokane’s new homeless shelter on Trent Avenue saw 36 people stay there on its first night, according to the Guardians Foundation, the shelter’s operator.
That included 13 who indicated they came from the Camp Hope tent city in east Spokane, including at least a few transported via the Spokane Party Bus. While the Guardians Foundation has worked with the Party Bus in the past, this particular use has some calling for shelter operators and city officials to read the room.
Months in the making, the Trent Resource and Assistance Center at 4320 E. Trent Ave. officially opened Tuesday with 75 beds. The low-barrier shelter, which does not require sobriety of guests, is building up to 150 beds, with space for mats to handle additional capacity as needed. The facility can also be used in excessive heat, cold or smoke.
The Guardians Foundation is managing the shelter’s day-to-day operations as part of a contract with the city that will continue through 2023. That contract was approved by the Spokane City Council in late August, giving the foundation a week to get the facility up and running.
“According to what other staff members have said, this one has gone smoother than Cannon,” shelter director Brad Baker said. “Quite honestly, even though we had one week to prepare for opening, I guess that’s longer than we’ve had at other openings. Even though a week isn’t really enough time, we did the best that we could with the people that we had, and I think it went smoothly.”
Baker said the opening went without incident, though staff is still working out internet access for guests. There was also something wrong with the shower trailer as of 1 p.m. Wednesday; Baker said the Guardians Foundation is in the process of getting transportation to the Cannon Street shelter for showers until that issue is fixed.
The shelter’s population by 5 p.m. Wednesday had grown to 40, including 16 who indicated they were from Camp Hope, city spokesman Brian Coddington said.
That included Stephany Stallone, who was at the shelter with her son, Ivan Stalbun, and their dog.
The 64-year-old Stallone, who primarily speaks Russian, said she used to work as a caretaker for her mother until her mother’s death last month. Stallone said the family was turned away at one point by a shelter that doesn’t accept dogs.
While her time at the camp was “very good,” Stallone said she has thus far found the Trent shelter to be much better.
City officials identified the Trent shelter as a component in their plan to relocate the people living at Camp Hope into better housing.
Only 51 of 601 Camp Hope residents tallied in a Jewels Helping Hands poll in July, however, indicated they would be willing to go to a shelter, depending on the operator. In that same poll, 534 people reported they had previous interventions with a homeless support agency.
While Spokane officials and Guardians Foundation representatives weren’t sure coming into opening day how many people would initially take to the Trent shelter, they are expecting the center’s popularity to grow as word of mouth spreads.
Similarly, city officials and shelter operators have described Tuesday as a “soft opening,” as the city is working to land another agency separate from the Guardians to provide services such as case management, mental health resources and job training.
Mayor Nadine Woodward said Tuesday that negotiations are ongoing with the Revive Center for Returning Citizens to provide those services.
“I’m interested to see how it goes from here on out,” Woodward said Tuesday of the shelter. “A lot of work by staff, a lot of hours, planning, challenges, setbacks, compromises to process – to finally get here is a real achievement by all of those that have been a part of this.”
To get at least a few people from Camp Hope to the Trent center, the Guardians Foundation got assistance from the Spokane Party Bus – an arrangement that caused something of a stir, particularly across social media, due to the vehicle’s festive appearance.
Coddington said the bus was used Tuesday “as a one-time thing.” The foundation’s Americans with Disabilities Act accessible bus was in use Tuesday as part of another contract the Guardians Foundation has with Spokane County to shuttle people in need of Salvation Army isolation services, he said.
Coddington said the Party Bus was used not only as a method of transportation for people at Camp Hope, but with anyone else around the community who wanted to go to the Trent shelter.
The Party Bus is co-owned by Chauncy “The Hillyard Hammer” Welliver and his wife, Sarah. Welliver reportedly works with the Guardians Foundation.
Requests for comment to the Spokane Party Bus were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Ed Stevenson, who founded Life Recovery Solutions, said while it’s important to get people to the Trent center, using the Party Bus is “probably about the blindest move anybody could make.”
“I think that’s a huge blunder to use a bus that says ‘Party Bus’ to transport people to a homeless shelter,” he said.
“My thoughts on the shelter is they’re never going to fill it up because … they’ve become a family there at Camp Hope, and I would be shocked if they got 100 people in there.”
Responding to Stevenson’s emailed concerns about the bus, Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she was “saddened and embarrassed” by the decision to use the Party Bus.
Coddington said anyone concerned with the Party Bus is “missing the bigger picture.”
“The bigger picture is we’ve got people living out in the elements, on streets … in unsafe and inhumane environments,” Coddington said. “This is all about moving people out of those unsafe environments into a sheltered location that provides them with a bed, a roof, meals and connectivity to services.”
Baker echoed those sentiments.
“I guess the important thing was to have people have the ability to get here and make it easy for them,” he said. “And yeah, I understand that there may be some difficulty with the optics. Ultimately, the intention was to help people get here and help them get here safely.”