Spokane Proposes Plan for Movement of Large Camp

Kirstin Davis, 509.625.7773

Thursday, July 21, 2022 at 4:23 p.m.

A collaboration of regional government and service partners proposed a plan to use state funding for state right-of-way encampments that includes onsite assessment, transportation, and emergency, transitional, and permanent housing to move individuals currently living in a field near the freeway into safer, healthier, and more humane spaces.

The plan seeks more than $24 million on behalf of numerous community service providers to add more than 650 total indoor spaces, more than half of them permanent. The funds were authorized by the state Legislature specifically to move people living on the Washington State Department of Transportation property near Interstate 90 and Freya St. into shelter with a preference for permanent housing. Spokane and four other communities eligible to receive a total of $144 million in rights-of-way funding statewide were notified by the state Department of Commerce, which was designated to allocate the funding, that the plan must be submitted within 30 days to be eligible.

“We relied on previous collaborations and plans already in place to grow and build new partnerships that will move individuals from an inhumane outdoor environment into safe and healthy spaces,” Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said. “Working together, we came up with a very solid, comprehensive plan in a very short amount of time.”

The partners submitted an initial request for the first 30 percent of the state funding last week, just three weeks after Commerce issued the request for proposals on June 21. That portion of the plan sought funding to do assessments conducted by multiple local agencies, purchase and retrofit a former motel into permanent housing, and purchase 30 2-person living pods to create private transitional space inside the new shelter on Trent Avenue, a request that was doubled in the full proposal.

The full request, which was submitted to Commerce today, seeks funds to immediately house individuals indoors with onsite wrap-around services including temporary, transitional, and permanent housing options by:

  • Making additional improvements to the Trent shelter to build permanent showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, and smaller communal living pods
  • Enhancing assessment tools to know individuals by name and need, which is seen as the most critical precursor step to building trust and matching an individual with the best housing solution
  • Adding navigation, diversion, and family reunification resources
  • Establishing dedicated transportation for access to services and employment
  • Adding two more case workers to Community Court for service connectivity, which can be accessed without justice involvement, and one case manager for existing shelters
  • Purchasing and rehabilitating existing buildings for affordable housing alternatives, including up to 110 individuals in a former motel
  • Creating additional permanent housing, development assistance to create permanent affordable housing
  • Providing rental assistance for individuals and families with working RVs to use existing locations

“It was critically important that we direct as much resource as possible to permanent housing,” Woodward said. “Emergency shelters meet an immediate need, but the long-term solution is more permanent housing.”

Elected and senior representatives from Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley met regularly over the past four weeks to discuss and prioritize needs and ideas. A work group talked extensively with community service partners to receive and evaluate ideas and was also in regular contact with the Commerce senior managing director who oversees community services and housing for the agency to seek additional guidance and keep the state apprised of progress toward a comprehensive plan.

Today was the deadline to submit the plan to Commerce. The proposal includes additional ideas for further development beyond the $24.3 million allocated for Spokane should additional funding become available. A deadline has not been established for reviewing and approving the plan, but the request for proposals from Commerce included an expectation of significant action beginning in August.

“The Commerce funds give us a unique opportunity to provide our houseless residents with beds, doors for privacy and security, bathrooms with running water and comprehensive services that will support their transition into permanent housing,” Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said. “For too long the lack of financial resources and political will has led too many of us to accept less than the basics of human dignity, and the collaboration between the Mayor and Council will propel our entire community forward.”

“The City’s allocation of this funding is contingent on providing housing solutions that the residents of Camp Hope will actually use,” said Council Member Lori Kinnear. “These solutions will need to include offering safe RV parking, pallet shelter opportunities, and other tiered levels of low-barrier transitional shelter space in areas outside the downtown core and in many cases outside the City limits. Commerce wants to see their funding used for these kinds of innovative solutions because they work.”

The City Council is expected to consider the contract for the Trent shelter operator on Monday. It has already approved zoning and lease considerations for the shelter. Tenant improvements are already in progress and the shelter is expected to open in August.

The proposal to Commerce seeks funding for additional improvements based on feedback from campers on the state Department of Transportation property. The 60 pallet structures could accommodate up to 120 individuals and the communal living pods would group individuals with an established community into a couple dozen.

The communal living pods strategy would maintain those support structures established through relationships with other campers. The pallet structures provide a pathway for more private living and transition to permanent, supportive housing. The proposal sets an expectation that movement of individuals would occur over the next two months.

“Our goal is to meet the campers where they are at in their individual journeys by providing services that help them take their next safe, healthy, and humane steps toward exiting homelessness,” Woodward said.