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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane mayoral candidates debate homelessness

Spokane mayoral candidates Tim Archer, far left, Lisa Brown, Kelly Stevens and Nadine Woodward debate in July 2023 at the downtown library over how the city should address homelessness.  (Colin Tiernan/The Spokesman-Review)

Reducing homelessness continued to dominate the Spokane mayoral race as candidates seeking to lead the city argued about the vexing problem during a live TV debate Wednesday at the downtown library.

Four of the five people on the ballot participated in the debate, which was moderated by KHQ’s Sean Owsley and exclusively focused on the homelessness crisis. The event gave candidates one of their last opportunities to appeal to voters before Tuesday’s primary election.

Tim Archer, a conservative who spent 20 years as a Spokane firefighter before he lost his job for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, criticized the two frontrunners – incumbent Nadine Woodward and Lisa Brown.

Archer accused Brown, a one-time Democratic majority leader of the state Senate, of “coming up with million-dollar solutions to thousand-dollar problems.” He knocked Woodward for merely reporting on emergencies during her time as a TV anchor, whereas he dealt with them personally as a first responder.

The former Army officer repeated one line multiple times during the debate.

“We do not have a homeless problem, we have a government problem,” he said.

Woodward and Brown spent much of their airtime criticizing each other.

Brown pointed out that homelessness has increased during Woodward’s time in office, and also noted that the city has experienced significant staff turnover in its department tasked with addressing homelessness.

The longtime politician also went after Woodward for her management of the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, a 350-bed homeless shelter on Trent Avenue.

That facility is costing the city well over $10 million a year, Brown said. She also argued that the shelter “makes no sense” from a taxpayer perspective, since Spokane leases it from Larry Stone, one of Woodward’s political donors.

“I do not support the Trent shelter, I think it’s literally a money pit,” Brown said. “What this administration is doing isn’t working.”

Woodward, who spent decades as a local TV reporter and anchor before winning the 2019 mayor’s race as a political newcomer, defended her record.

She argued that she’s done a good job of guiding the city through a severe housing shortage and touted the fact that Spokane has added hundreds of shelter beds since she took office.

In response to Brown’s criticisms about the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, Woodward said she expects it to close within five years.

She defended leasing the former warehouse because “we don’t have enough money to buy the Trent shelter.”

The incumbent also said she did a good job managing Camp Hope, the now-shuttered east Spokane homeless encampment that once had more than 600 residents.

“What we saw at Camp Hope was a prioritization of the homeless over neighbors and businesses,” Woodward said. “I think that’s absolutely wrong.”

Kelly Stevens, who works in the city’s public works department and describes herself as a pothole fixer, said the city needs to simultaneously show homeless people compassion and tough love.

She repeatedly said the city needs to spend more money on shelters so that homeless people have a place to go.

“I would love for us to build enough shelters to require people to be in those shelters,” she said.