Spokane adds beds for homeless in shelters, hotels

<p><p>As dozens of tents continued to line sidewalks outside Spokane City Hall in a plea for more shelter beds, the City Council took action Monday to fund up to 40 hotel rooms a night for the homeless.</p></p><p><p>The City Council granted the city administration’s request to allow The Guardians Foundation to place up to 40 people in hotel rooms every night when the city-owned Cannon Street shelter is at capacity.</p></p><p><p>The Guardians was the largest of three organizations to receive funding Monday to expand shelter options .</p></p><p><p>The specifics were revealed publicly for the first time Monday, but the hoteling plan had long been in the works and is not a direct response to the <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/dec/10/dozens-of-tents-pop-up-in-front-of-city-hall-in-ho” target=”_blank”>ongoing Camp Hope protest outside City Hall</a>. Organizations that won funding replied to a request for proposals issued by the city Nov. 5.</p></p><p><p>Still, the Camp Hope protest helped to underscore the problem as the council undertook its discussion during a meeting of its Urban Experience Committee on Monday.</p></p><p><p>Mayor Nadine Woodward has <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/oct/25/evictions-covid-19-and-cold-weather-homeless-shelt” target=”_blank”>worked to develop a shelter system</a> with “flex capacity” that can expand when necessary, such as during winter weather. She also included $4.6 million in her proposed 2022 budget to construct a new low-barrier homeless shelter.</p></p><p><p>But the city’s homelessness response has been lambasted by advocates for the homeless who have organized the protest. It mirrors a <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/dec/09/police-clear-homeless-encampment-in-front-of-city” target=”_blank”>similar protest that occurred in 2018</a>, with dozens of people sleeping in tents directly in front of City Hall.</p></p><p><p>City officials acknowledged Monday that finding a space suitable for a large shelter has been a challenge.</p></p><p><p>“If we’re looking for larger density of numbers, then we’re certainly not there yet … it’s not a light switch that we can turn on for 200 new spaces tomorrow,” said Eric Finch, the city’s chief innovation and technology officer.</p></p><p><p>The administration plans to meet with Spokane Homeless Coalition leaders 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 housing officials from City Hall this year.</p></p><p><p>Barry Barfield, administrator for the Spokane Homeless Coalition, confirmed to The Spokesman-Review that Finch has been invited to a monthly meeting of the coalition’s leadership team.</p></p><p><p>Barfield described the hoteling plan laid out by the city on Monday as a “drop in the bucket,” but a “good first step.”</p></p><p><p>Though the city has had beds available in low-barrier shelters – meaning the operator does not place requirements, such as sobriety, on its guests – Finch acknowledged they have not been open to everyone.</p></p><p><p>Beds have been unoccupied in family shelters, as well as those serving adult men and young adults. But “it’s been very slim or zero for women” and at the city’s co-ed shelter, Finch said. According to the city’s capacity report, no low-barrier beds were available at women-only shelters or the co-ed shelter on Sunday night. Fourteen adults were placed in a hotel.</p></p><p><p>Finch said the city is trying to prioritize women and families for hotel room access.</p></p><p><p>The exact number of beds available in shelters is a consistent point of contention between advocates for the homeless and city officials.</p></p><p><p>Councilman Michael Cathcart pressed the city to publicize a long-discussed dashboard of shelter capacity data.</p></p><p><p>“That would put us all on the same page and there wouldn’t be any confusion,’’ Cathcart said.</p></p><p><p>Shelter capacity will be tested under the city’s “flex” capacity model as winter grips Spokane.</p></p><p><p>The Guardians received up to $356,420 to place people in hotels, but other organizations were tapped to expand services as well.</p></p><p><p>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 nights of hotel stays for women fleeing domestic violence. The funding for the Guardians, Family Promise and the YWCA was approved by the council unanimously.</p></p><p><p>Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson noted that the hoteling – which the city also relied on last winter – is an expensive way to shelter people. She questioned its efficacy.</p></p><p><p>Finch said hotels were effective in terms of providing a roof over a person’s head, but fell short compared to existing providers in offering wraparound services.</p></p><p><p>“It’s a little bit more of a stopgap than obviously a long-term solution,” Finch said.</p></p>