Regional Shelter System Plan Takes Next Step

Brian Coddington, Communications Director, 509.625.6740

Monday, November 16, 2020 at 1:29 p.m.

How those who are homeless access services is evolving to provide greater consistency and more intensive connectivity, Mayor Nadine Woodward said Monday while discussing an update to the regional system that includes partners Spokane County, Spokane Valley, and the Spokane Regional Health District. 

The regional plan includes transitioning next year to a year-round hub for connection to services and establishing an intensive, referral-based Bridge Housing program to move people from homelessness to permanent housing. The next step in the plan is opening a seasonal warming center to enhance current system capacity, which includes a collection of space at a regional COVID healthy shelter, City funded locations, and private nonprofit providers. Shelters work with SRHD to ensure compliance with current COVID guidance and perform nightly wellness checks. 

“People experiencing homelessness need consistency of people and resources to successfully stabilize their situations,” Woodward said. “Relationships are critically important to finding a way out and those are built on sustained, meaningful connections.”  

Operation of the seasonal warming center is expected to change after this year with the anticipated establishment of a year-round hub for services at the Cannon Street location next summer. The City owns the building and Spokane County invested CARES funding to improve the structure to meet needs related to the global pandemic.  

Renovation work began in June at Cannon once it was no longer needed as a healthy shelter location. Disruptions to the supply chain and availability of materials related to the global pandemic have at times delayed the work. Numerous vendors prioritized the shelter need and found creative solutions to the hurdles. 

Improvements included structural enhancements, the addition of shower, restroom, and laundry facilities, and ADA and isolation accommodations. The building has three sections. Work is completed in the first two and is expected to be finished in the third, which includes the showers and restrooms, next month. Portable toilets and showers will be used until the third section is finished.  

Based on the review and recommendation of the regional Continuum of Care board, The Guardians Foundation has been selected to operate the Cannon seasonal warming center through June at a cost of $750,000. Three points separated the scoring of the two finalist proposals on a 100-point system. Costs for the other operator were estimated at $1.2 million. The Continuum of Care board consists of representatives from Spokane, Spokane County, Spokane Valley, and regional service providers. 

“We are working hard as regional partners to evolve the system to better direct the resources that move people out of homelessness,” Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney said. “These steps will help fill in gaps and keep people more consistently connected to services.” 

Transitioning the traditional seasonal warming center model to year-round operation is expected to happen in July and will introduce consistency in staffing for the operator and access to services for those seeking assistance. Once Cannon is operational as a year-round location, it will add built-in flexible capability to accommodate short-term needs for relief from the cold, heat, and smoke. A year-round operator will be selected through a competitive proposal process next year. 

The referral-based Bridge Housing program will hold participants accountable to progressing through steps to a permanent housing and is expected to begin operation once COVID restrictions are lifted. The program will fill a need to closely guide those who are ready to end their chronic homelessness and create a continuous mechanism for freeing up space in the temporary, drop-in shelter system.  

Representatives from Spokane, Spokane County, and Spokane Valley are meeting weekly to discuss plan elements and system needs. All have committed funding to the regional system.

The current system relies on the interconnectivity of government-funded and private nonprofit shelters to primarily provide drop-in space. Three current locations and operators have partnered with the regional governments over the past few weeks to flex and add space on a short-term basis to meet expected demand related to fluctuations in the fall weather and temperature. Dozens of spaces remained available through the end of last week.  

The flex space will remain available until Cannon is fully operational as a seasonal center.