City Focuses On Regional Shelter Needs as Warming Center Contracts End

Brian Coddington, 509.625.6740

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 12:42 p.m.

With May 1 just around the corner, the City of Spokane is preparing to transition from seasonal warming centers for those experiencing homelessness to regional COVID-19 response shelter services.

Seasonal warming centers, operated by contractors, are closing Thursday per terms of the contracts. Shelter space opened to accommodate physical distancing among the region’s unsheltered population as part of the regional response to COVID-19 will remain operational.

Ongoing services for those experiencing homelessness will include some extra programs because of coronavirus, including:

  • Access to the alternative care campus for those who need to isolate away from others due to illness.
  • Additional physical shelter space to accommodate social distancing among those being served.
  • Ongoing outreach and a “Street Medicine” program that includes health care professionals on an outreach team visits those experiencing homelessness where they are.

Contracts for seasonal winter warming centers and added warming center capacity expire April 30, and additional space set up the Downtown Branch of the Spokane Public Library will close as planned on May 15 to accommodate the construction schedule at the library. Proposals to continue operations in a different location are being evaluated by representatives from the City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley, Spokane County, and the Spokane Regional Health District as part of the regional response effort.

The City and its partners will review the seasonal warming center operations as part of its typical end-of-season process to identify needs for the next season.

“We have prepared to continue to respond and reduce the spread of COVID-19 among those experiencing homelessness and throughout our community,” says Mayor Nadine Woodward. “With warmer weather arriving, we must take this opportunity to proceed with our planning efforts on how our system of homelessness services transitions for the future.”

The Mayor is creating a task force to look at the community’s system to support those experiencing homelessness and help transition people into permanent housing. Emergency pandemic response efforts slowed progress on this work in recent weeks, but the mission is expected to push ahead now. The Spokane City/County Continuum of Care Board will be integral to this work.

“We developed a network of services to assist vulnerable citizens during the winter while also accommodating emergent needs created by the COVID-19 emergency,” says Tim Sigler, the City’s Director of Community Housing and Homeless Services (CHHS). “Our community now needs to come together to determine the best path forward, as our Mayor and other local leaders have prioritized.”

Among other things, decisions around the future use of the City’s building on North Cannon Street are needed, as are recommendations to ensure internal processes and controls in CHHS are clear, consistent and applied, Sigler says. A process to review the appropriate level of winter services for the 2020-2021 winter also is important, he says.

A review by the State Auditor’s Office that was announced at the end of February is continuing. The Auditor’s office is reviewing process steps of work that was done last fall, following questions raised the CHHS staff.