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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Another ‘error’ blamed as homeless turned away from Trent shelter amid Cannon closure

Greg Frechette sits in the Trent Resource and Assistance Center on Jan. 12, 2023. On Wednesday, the center turned homeless people away, claiming it was full. The city later said that the center is not full.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The city-funded Trent Avenue homeless shelter began turning people away Wednesday, which city officials say was yet another mistake leading to people being told there was no room.

“They’re not supposed to be telling people they’re full,” said city spokesperson Brian Coddington.

The miscommunication, which Coddington called an “error,” followed the closing earlier this week of Spokane’s Cannon Street homeless shelter, which was funded by the city until the end of the month. Some homeless and city leaders said Wednesday they were surprised by the closure.

For months, the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, the city’s largest homeless shelter, has listed a capacity of 350 people, with the ability to add beds during severe weather conditions. As of Tuesday, the city-run website reported that 330 people were staying at the facility.

But as the last of upwards of 70 people were being transferred from Cannon to the Trent shelter, “only a handful” of which declined the move, according to Coddington, there were reportedly only 280 beds open to the general homeless population as of Wednesday, every one of which was occupied. Staff with the Salvation Army, which the city has contracted to run the Trent shelter, told service providers, city staff and reporters that the site was full and turning away new people.

If the Trent shelter was truly full, this would mean that there were no low-barrier beds still available in Spokane for homeless women unless they were younger than 24 or referred to a specific facility due to domestic violence.

“This is exactly where we were when we started protests at city hall,” said Julie Garcia, founder of Jewels Helping Hands, a homeless service provider currently managing Camp Hope, a controversial camp along Interstate 90 west of Freya Street. “There were no beds available for women.”

But the 280 figure was an error, Coddington said late Wednesday afternoon, and the shelter still has a capacity for 350 adults. Instead, there are 280 people currently staying at the Trent shelter, he added. has since been updated to correct the issue.

This wasn’t the first time that a miscommunication was blamed after homeless people were turned away from the Trent shelter. In December, some homeless Spokane residents attempting to get out of the dangerous cold weather were unable to get a bed at the city’s largest indoor shelter, which city officials said had been caused by a miscommunication while faulty wooden beds were replaced with metal ones.

“This is crazy,” Garcia said Wednesday after being informed of the mistake.

The drop from 330 guests reported Tuesday to the 280 reported Wednesday was not due to anyone being kicked out, Coddington wrote in a text.

“Typically the count drops dramatically around the first of the month as people seek hotel options,” he wrote.

Garcia questioned this, claiming that very few hotels in town accept cash or were otherwise available to homeless guests.

“There aren’t 50 hotel beds,” she said.

The mistake was caused by ongoing conversations about permanently reducing the capacity of the Trent shelter due to concerns about the site’s long-term financial sustainability, Coddington said. However, he said no official decision had been made yet.

Several Spokane City Council members said they learned of the Cannon shelter’s early closure for the first time Wednesday and expressed confusion about the situation at the Trent shelter. Both facilities are funded by the city.

“I don’t have any answers,” said Council President Breean Beggs early Wednesday afternoon. “I haven’t heard anything from the administration.”

The City Council had talked for months about closing the Cannon facility, a general population, low-barrier shelter for adults, and replacing it with a medical respite facility for disabled or medically fragile homeless people, who are regularly turned away from other shelters. The council unanimously approved a resolution on April 17 in support of this conversion.

This alternative use was envisioned in large part to provide a place to go for many of the remaining Camp Hope homeless encampment residents, who reportedly require levels of medical care that existing shelters can’t provide.

Coddington clarified that it’s not certain when the facility will reopen pending negotiations nor whether a respite facility will be opened there.

“The conversation is still in the very early stages,” Coddington wrote in a text. “This is just one of a few options and would require a partnership to come together.”

Lost in the shuffle

For some, the closure of the Cannon Street shelter forced a difficult change.

“That whole staff there was my family,” said Suzann Calvert, 46, amid tears. “Now that they’re gone, what do you do?”

Calvert said she had moved to Spokane around 12 years ago and has been homeless for the last seven. She has stayed at the Cannon shelter for the last three years, much of which with her father, who died last summer, she said.

“I used to be a dope dealer, a bully,” she said. “They loved me irregardless and gave me a purpose.”

Calvert and her black lab, Solay, made their way out of the Cannon shelter to a nearby park, though she said she plans to sleep by the river and move to a new location every night going forward. One thing’s for certain: she’s not going to stay at the Trent shelter.

“Absolutely not,” she said, expressing concerns about access to drugs. “I will not go there. ”

Though the issue is not limited to the Trent facility, Calvert said drug use seems particularly rampant in the large congregant setting and that the risk of relapse would be too great. She said that two of her acquaintances who struggled with opiate addictions had relapsed since going there.

The Cannon shelter wasn’t perfect, she added, but it was the setting she was familiar and comfortable with.

Calvert said she and others staying there hadn’t received more than two weeks warning that they would have to move somewhere else, though Coddington disputed this and said notice was provided in March.

She also claimed that many of the possessions of those staying at the Cannon Shelter had been taken away and disposed of Monday. Coddington said he couldn’t immediately confirm whether this was the case, but stated it was city policy that only items that people agreed to throw away should have been disposed in this way.