City Council preparing to fund new shelter space

November 29, 2018

The Spokane City Council is poised to approve funding for 60 additional shelter beds, one of the first steps in a network of new or expanded warming shelters.

The move is aimed, in part, at making up for cuts at the House of Charity, which reduced its shelter capacity by about 150 spaces this year just before the cold, winter months set in.

The new shelter, which will be discussed in a study session at 3 p.m. Thursday, will be operated by the Salvation Army and the Guardian Foundation at the Salem Lutheran Church on West Broadway Avenue. Kelly Keenan, director of the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department, said the shelter would serve men and women, but not families and children. He said shelter hours and other logistical details are still in development, but the city was trying to bring the shelter online as soon as possible.

The city has also awarded funding to Women’s Hearth, a daytime shelter in downtown Spokane, to close the gap between when Hope House opens and Women’s Hearth closes, so women experiencing homelessness or domestic violence have a safe place to go at all hours of the day and on weekends. Director of Women’s Hearth Susan Tyler-Babkirk said the shelter would open additional hours as soon as new staff were hired.

Open Doors, a 24/7 shelter for families with children, also received new city funding to increase capacity. Altogether, the city is scheduled to approve about $1 million in funding to increase capacity and add additional winter warming shelters across Spokane.

Councilwoman Kate Burke said she was glad new shelters were finally being set up, but the mayor’s administration should have implemented a plan months ago.

She said the city has been criticized by the business community, activists and the homeless for the loss of shelter beds and its slow response to replace them. She said she hoped adding more capacity outside of the downtown core might also spread people out, so people aren’t crowded into one shelter or area, like the House of Charity.

Councilman Breean Beggs said the city faced a similar issue last year. He said he hopes next winter, the city will have more permanent beds or have the warming shelter network already in place, and won’t have a shortage of shelter beds when it’s no longer safe to sleep outside.

Keenan said there are about 850 spaces across the city’s shelter system: 356 for men, 98 for women and 416 for single adults, households with minor children or teenagers in Spokane.

Those spaces include city-funded facilities and shelters that do not take government funds. According to the Regional Point-in-Time Count snapshot from this year, which is taken one night every year in the third week of January, 1,245 people were sleeping at emergency shelters, transitional houses or places not meant for human habitation. About 85 percent of the people counted in the one-night snapshot were in the City of Spokane.

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