Spokane adds homeless beds to shelters and hotels

As dozens of tents continued to line the sidewalks outside Spokane Town Hall in a plea for more shelter beds, the city council took action on Monday to fund up to 40 rooms in hotel per night for the homeless.

City Council has granted the city administration’s request to allow the Guardians Foundation to place up to 40 people in hotel rooms each night when the city-owned Cannon Street shelter is at full capacity .

The Guardians was the largest of the three organizations to receive funding on Monday to expand shelter options.

Details were first revealed publicly on Monday, but the accommodation plan has been in the works for a long time and is not a direct response to the ongoing Camp Hope protest outside City Hall. Organizations that received funding responded to a request for proposals issued by the city on November 5.

Still, the Camp Hope protest helped highlight the issue as council began its discussions at a meeting of its Urban Experiment Committee on Monday.

Mayor Nadine Woodward has been working on developing a shelter system with “flexible capacity” that can expand if necessary, for example during the winter. She also included $ 4.6 million in her 2022 budget plan to build a new low-barrier homeless shelter.

But the city’s response to the homeless was castigated by homeless advocates who staged the protest. This reflects a similar protest that happened in 2018, with dozens of people sleeping in tents directly in front of City Hall.

City officials acknowledged on Monday that finding suitable space for a large shelter has been a challenge.

“If we’re looking for greater density of numbers, then we’re definitely not there yet… it’s not a switch we can turn on for 200 new spaces tomorrow,” said Eric Finch, chief innovation officer and of city technology.

The administration plans to meet with leaders of the Spokane Homeless Coalition on Tuesday to discuss its homeless services, according to Finch, who has become the administration’s de facto leader on homelessness due to the exodus of homeless people. city ​​hall housing officials this year.

Barry Barfield, administrator of the Spokane Homeless Coalition, confirmed to The Spokesman-Review that Finch has been invited to a monthly meeting of the coalition’s leadership team.

Barfield described the hosting plan presented by the city on Monday as a “drop in the bucket” but a “good first step”.

Although the city has made beds available in low-barrier shelters – meaning the operator doesn’t impose requirements, such as sobriety, on his guests – Finch admitted they were not open to everyone.

Beds have been vacant in family shelters, as well as those serving adult men and young adults. But “it’s very thin or bad for women,” and at the town’s mixed shelter, Finch said. According to the city’s capacity report, no low-barrier beds were available at the women’s-only shelters or the mixed-use shelter on Sunday evening. Fourteen adults were placed in a hotel.

Finch said the city was trying to prioritize women and families for access to hotel rooms.

The exact number of beds available in shelters is a constant point of contention between homeless advocates and city officials.

City Councilor Michael Cathcart urged the city to release a long-discussed dashboard of shelter capacity data.

“It would put us all on the same page and there would be no confusion,” Cathcart said.

Shelter capacity will be tested against the city’s flex capacity model, as winter hangs on in Spokane.

The Guardians have been given up to $ 356,420 to accommodate people in hotels, but other organizations have also been asked to expand their services.

The council also approved $ 292,000 to add 10 beds for families with children at Family Promise’s Open Doors shelter and nine beds at a separate site in Cheney. The YWCA will receive $ 126,000 for 190 hotel nights for women fleeing domestic violence. Funding for the Guardians, the Family Promise and the YWCA was unanimously approved by the Board.

City Councilor Betsy Wilkerson noted that shelter – which the city also relied on last winter – is an expensive way to house people. She wonders about its effectiveness.

Finch said hotels were effective in providing a roof over a person’s head, but fell short of existing providers in providing wrap-around services.

“It’s a little more of a stopgap than obviously a long-term solution,” Finch said.

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