Fundamental Shift Maximizing Homelessness Resources, Improving Environment

Brian Coddington, Communications Director, 509.625.6740

Thursday, June 3, 2021 at 2:21 p.m.

The homelessness system has undergone a fundamental shift to make better use of regional partnerships and assets that temporarily shelter individuals and families and transition people out of homelessness.

Mayor Nadine Woodward laid out a plan last summer (at 50:26) to maximize partner and funding resources and fill identified gaps in collaboration with Spokane County, Spokane Valley, and service providers. Since that announcement in July the regional approach has:

  • Met regularly as a regional group to collaborate on system enhancements
  • Invested in pandemic needs to minimize the spread of illness that prevented large outbreaks and will become long-term system assets
  • Begun the process to convert The Way Out temporary drop-in shelter location into the home of the Bridge Housing Program
  • Secured state funding for a Young Adult Shelter, established a temporary location, and identified a preliminary permanent location outside of the downtown core
  • Developed a process to select a year-round contract-operator of the Cannon shelter beginning this summer to end the seasonal ramp-up and ramp down cycle
  • Reintroduced the Cannon shelter to the Browne’s Addition neighborhood as a model for connecting partner providers to the neighborhoods in which they operate through improved outreach and daily shelter-conducted neighborhood cleanups
  • Added flexibility to the shelter system during times of large weather swings and other short-term environmental impacts
  • Added new assets to meet specialized needs and better distribute resources
  • Collected Point-in-Time Count data and information as one measure for future resource allocation when other communities opted out

“We have accomplished a lot over the past year as we fundamentally shift how we transition people out of homelessness,” Woodward said. “We are taking an outcomes-based approach that balances the different voices, perspectives, and needs and is strengthened by the partnership between the Administration and City Council as we work closely together as an organization on policy and financial considerations.”

A request for proposals for the year-round operator of the Cannon shelter will be released Friday and remain open for 30 days. The site will become a critical homelessness services center intake point for the regional system. The center already gives people experiencing homelessness a place to rest, get a meal, take a shower, use the restroom, recharge electronic devices, and do laundry.

As a services center, it will become a central place to meet with housing, employment, mental health, addiction, and other specialists. An operator is expected be selected on September 1 following the competitive public process.

“The regional partnership has worked really closely together to meet immediate pandemic needs with an eye toward filling gaps in the system,” Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney said. “We are improving system responsiveness and strategically adding assets to better meet community needs.”

The Guardians Foundation has partnered with the City to successfully meet a pandemic need for a 24-hour shelter at Cannon for the past seven months following an extensive remodel paid for by federal CARES funds allocated by Spokane County. The City is extending that contract, which was set to expire on June 30, through the end of the summer to ensure those services continue uninterrupted while a long-term operator is selected.

“We believe we are a model for what can happen with policies and procedures that protect the community, protect our guests, protect our employees, and we get positive outcomes,” said Mike Shaw, founder and CEO of the Guardians.

Work is also underway to transition The Way Out drop-in shelter into the home of the Bridge Housing Program, a collection of intensive housing, employment, and other supportive services to rapidly move people out of homelessness. That work is expected to be completed by early fall.

The Salvation Army has already started that transition work as a night-by-night shelter. Since August, in a pandemic environment, The Way Out shelter has helped 64 people find more stable housing. Nine have also secured verifiable employment while a few others have found work doing side jobs.

“By coming to us, we’re going to interview them and get a chance to talk to them to make sure this is the path they want to take, and then we’re going to help move mountains for them,” said Major Ken Perine of The Salvation Army, which operates The Way Out Shelter and will run the Bridge Housing Program. “We’ll get them into substance abuse prevention, we’re going to help them get the training they need so they can get a job, and teach them consistency in daily life.”

A Young Adult Shelter recently began operating temporarily out of the Women’s Hearth while a permanent location is secured. A permanent site near Spokane Community College, which offers technical and trade education, is on a bus line, and is away from the downtown core, is being considered. Funding from the state Department of Commerce grant secured by the regional collaborative will be used to operate the shelter, which caters to 18-to-24-year-olds.

“Meeting the unique needs of our young adults experiencing homelessness is an exciting opportunity,” said Fawn Schott, president and CEO of Volunteers of America, which operates the Young Adult Shelter. “We will be able to move them swiftly into safe and stable housing.”

The most recent Point-in-Time Count, conducted in January in modified fashion due to pandemic limitations, found emergency shelter participation has steadily increased since 2013. It concluded that in lieu of increasing inventory, investments in improved placement rates and performance leads to more people exiting homelessness.

At 992, the number of people counted as sheltered remained relatively flat over the past five years. The Point-in-Time Count typically involves a count of the unsheltered population as well; however, as a result of pandemic restrictions in place at the time of the count data on unsheltered homeless was not collected this year. Statewide, and nationally, homelessness is increasing.

The City has also identified some immediate steps, based on user feedback, to improve the environment for all who use downtown. The pandemic impacted many of the measures that were previously in place, and the expected reopening of the economy could help accelerate the immediate actions, which include:

  • Doubling the number of employees dedicated to litter and graffiti cleanup to create four crews to respond to complaints and proactively monitor hot spot areas; work directly with the downtown police precinct to respond to reports of illegal camping and regularly clean hot spots; work with the POD outside of the downtown area; and provide general code enforcement and illegal dumping abatement
  • Adding a dozen more secure public garbage cans in the downtown core for additional disposal and containment of litter
  • Reopening public restroom facilities in the downtown core that had been closed as part of the pandemic response
  • Collaborating with the Downtown Spokane Partnership Clean Team related to cleaning human waste in alleyways and other public spaces
  • Piloting an alleyway activation partnership with DSP and Spokane Arts between Washington and Stevens and Main and Riverside, which included new pavement, to encourage positive activities
  • Working with service providers to facilitate continuous open communication with neighbors to minimize neighborhood impact
  • Increasing awareness of the hours of intake at shelter locations

“The global pandemic threw a lot of challenges our way and a region we met them and found long-term opportunity,” Woodward said.