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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shawn Vestal: Nonprofit criticizes City of Spokane for lack of progress on moving downtown shelter

In April of 2022, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward announced during her state-of-the-city address that the House of Charity homeless shelter would be moving out of downtown – and that Catholic Charities would reopen a larger, better facility elsewhere in the city.

Eighteen months later, there has been no tangible progress toward the so-called House of Charity 2.0. The original House of Charity remains in its longtime location at 32 W. Pacific Ave. And Catholic Charities leaders are blaming Woodward for blocking proposed locations and failing to offer alternatives or answer basic questions about funding.

“It’s been almost two years and nothing’s happened,” Rob McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, said last week. “I don’t know what to make of that.”

Though a lot has changed in the community’s homelessness response since April 2022, including the movement toward creating a regional homelessness authority that would pool government resources and centralize decision-making, and the opening of the city’s shelter on Trent Avenue, both the Woodward administration and Catholic Charities remains committed to the idea of relocating the House of Charity and its array of services that includes 135 rooms. Showers. Three meals a day. And medical, mental health and case management help.

“As a city, perhaps we haven’t been giving it the considerable time and energy to get it done at a faster pace,” said city spokesman Brian Coddington. “But we’ve had other activities that have competed for our time and attention. It has not been for lack of looking, listening and paying attention.”

He said Catholic Charities has developed a very well-thought out plan for a campus-style facility, but it would require 5 acres or so , and finding a property of that size, in an area appropriate for neighboring uses and near a bus line, among other considerations, has been difficult.

Catholic Charities issued a public statement last week airing its criticisms, as well as detailing its efforts to help the homeless, responding to criticisms, and outlining the reasons it says there has been no progress on the initiative. (The full statement is at

“Unfortunately, there has not been any genuine or meaningful movement from the city’s leadership to proceed with this proposed relocation, but we are still prayerfully hopeful,” the statement said.

McCann said Catholic Charities invested more than $50,000 in identifying and preparing possible sites that Woodward rejected. Those sites included property near the intersection of Government Way and the Sunset Highway, land near the intersection of the Sunset Highway and Grove Road near the Diamond Self Storage complex, and a site near the Spokane Airport.

Catholic Charities now plans to build a family housing project at the Government Way/Sunset Highway spot.

The nonprofit asked for a list of city-owned properties to identify other potential sites to relocate the House of Charity and received only a short list of parcels that were “not remotely possible,” McCann said.

Woodward signed a non-binding letter of interest with Catholic Charities before the announcement in April 2022, indicating that “City/County sources” would fund construction of the new facility and cover five years of operations, though the specific nature of that funding was not identified.

McCann said it was never clear where this money would come from – an expected $15 million in capital costs, before operations – but was assured it would be found. He said that talks between Catholic Charities and the Woodward administration continued even as the Trent Avenue shelter opened at a cost that city officials agree is unsustainable.

“As she was telling us, ‘Yeah, we do have the means to get the money,’ the City Council was saying, ‘We don’t know where the money’s coming from,’” McCann said.

The city is also facing a $20 million budget deficit.

Asked about the criticisms during a mayoral candidates’ debate Wednesday night, Woodward acknowledged that she had turned down properties proposed for the House of Charity 2.0, saying that they would have concentrated homeless services on the west end of downtown.

“I wasn’t going to de-concentrate services downtown and move it to the West Hills,” she said.

She also said that her administration had “worked very aggressively” to identify possible sites for the project.

Coddington said a specific funding source has not been identified, but that the city does believe it has ways to form partnerships to fund the project, if and when the right property can be found.

“The idea is to find the right property and then be creative in how we pay for it,” he said.

‘We chose to engage’

Going back to her first campaign for mayor, Woodward has criticized Catholic Charities and its operations, and she’s recently blamed its housing projects for contributing to problems associated with homelessness downtown.

The organization’s fundamental approach is at odds with the mayor’s vision of a response built primarily around police intervention and legal consequences, which usually frames the problem as chiefly one of crime and disorder, and the belief that the city makes it “easy to be homeless.”

In its statement, Catholic Charities reaffirmed its commitment to housing-first principles of caring for the homeless, which is also a requirement for obtaining federal and state funding. As opposed to criminalizing homelessness or blaming service providers for “enabling” homelessness, it called for a response in the “compassionate, reasonable middle” that balances housing and behavioral health services with accountability for those who are a danger to themselves or others.

McCann said his organization has refrained from responding publicly to criticisms of his organization and tried to avoid burning bridges, while attempting to collaborate on solutions when the administration proposed relocating the downtown shelter.

“We chose to engage with the mayor with the full understanding that for many years she has said negative things about this organization and our work,” he said.

But a lack of progress, along with frequent questions from the public about the status of the announced move – especially arising from recent concerns about crime and disorder around Second and Division near the shelter – prompted him to make a statement.

Council President Lori Kinnear said she remembered being surprised at the announcement of the relocation plan in April 2022, and wondered where the millions of dollars would come from that would be required for the move .

“Where is she getting this money?” Kinnear said she remembered wondering at the time. “This is magic money.”

Since then, the city’s financial difficulties have worsened, and the movement to create a regional homelessness authority, pooling resources from different local governments and centralizing decision-making, has gained steam.

Kinnear said she is hopeful that the authority will be in place by the end of the year. She also said she doesn’t believe that the city standing up a new shelter will be the way to go under a model intended to focus on a unified system moving away from congregate shelters and toward an approach meant to {%%note} {/%%note} move people quickly into transitional and then permanent housing.

“That’s not where we’re going as a city,” she said.

But McCann and Coddington both said the movement toward a regional plan has not been a factor in the lack of movement .

McCann also said the new project was planned not as a congregate shelter with a room full of beds, but as a campus with individualized spaces on a large campus with a wide range of supportive services.

‘A fresh start’

Closing the House of Charity downtown was always going to be easier than opening a new one. It has long been one of the only alternatives for emergency shelter in the city, and under the previous administration was a key element in the city’s 24/7 shelter system.

It has attracted occasional criticism for many years from neighboring businesses and others, even when the homelessness crisis was much less severe. Woodward presented the announcement that it had agreed to move as a triumph.

But if it was applauded by those who wanted to see the House of Charity gone, it left open the very difficult next step: Finding a place for it to go.

It is intensely difficult to open new homelessness services. Any conceivable location is likely to attract deep opposition from neighbors and nearby businesses.

McCann knew that going into the agreement with the city last year, noting on the day of Woodward’s announcement that

“The best place to build a homeless shelter, folks, is ‘somewhere else.’ Everybody knows it. It’s a reality, and so we’re going to have to talk to people to get them OK with what’s coming.”

Still, McCann said at the time that he thought there might be an announcement on a location within a month or so.

The plans involved Catholic Charities building a new campus-style operation with a range of supportive services and greater capacity. It would close the 135-bed men’s shelter and replace it with a facility serving between 250 and 300 men and women.

At the time, Woodward said, “The vision is to significantly increase space for women, provide comprehensive services that will help people become more stable and move into permanent supportive housing and offer even greater flexibility with how we give everyone a fresh start toward making Spokane a model for how we support the individual journey.”

McCann said he thought the project was a good idea because the original House of Charity had become a less-ideal location as that end of downtown developed, and that continual pressure from shelter critics left him feeling it was the best way forward.

‘Still a great idea’

Catholic Charities and Woodward signed a non-binding letter of interest on the proposal last April, days before the announcement. The letter calls for the city to develop a budget and identify sources of funding, collaborate with Catholic Charities on design, construction and services; and to reimburse the nonprofit for its pre-development expenses, among other things.

McCann said that Catholic Charities identified three possible locations, west of downtown but away from homes – with storage units and vacant lots as the immediate neighbors, he said.

This occurred in and around the timeframe that his organization also opened a new permanent supportive housing project at a former hotel in the West Hills – a project that attracted intense opposition from some neighbors.

Still, McCann said he had been hopeful about the locations Catholic Charities identified He said Woodward toured the properties and seemed to have a “positive reaction.” But she eventually rejected two of them, and a third property was unsuitable for the project, he said.

Progress then stalled, he said. Catholic Charities continued to meet with the administration over the past year, asking for a list of potential city properties and trying to get more details about how the administration envisioned paying for such a project.

These meetings continued even as the Trent Avenue shelter was proposed and opened as the crisis around Camp Hope, the now-closed encampment that once sat along Interstate 90 in the East Central neighborhood, dragged on.

Answers about possible locations or funding never came, he said.

“We kind of just kept asking questions,” he said. “We never got answers to those questions despite asking every single time at every single meeting.”

Coddington said city officials brought forward the properties that it believed might work, but they wouldn’t fit the plan.

Catholic Charities’ public statement noted that the organization provides more than 3,000 units of housing; 310 of those are apartments providing supportive services for single men exiting homelessness. In 2022, the statement said, Catholic Charities helped 771 people leave homelessness and diverted more than 2,800 people from becoming homeless.

In addition to criticizing the administration for not providing possible locations or funding details, Catholic Charities said in the statement that it has asked the city to reimburse Catholic Charities for more than $50,000 it has spent on the process so far, as outlined in the non-binding letter of interest.

McCann said the reimbursement is the least of his concerns. He said he believed in the project last April when it was announced, and he still does.

“We still think it’s a great idea,” he said. “The plan was a good one. It’s still a good one.”

Coddington agreed, saying that despite the fact that the project has not moved forward as quickly as people hoped, it is not off the table.

“We’ve been working at it,” he said. “It does take time.”