Spokane officials are back to the drawing board to conceptualize how a new city-funded homeless shelter might work.
To guide the city government with those details, members of the Spokane City Council met Thursday for a study session to discuss their ideas for a new homeless shelter, informed in part by community feedback.
The city had previously solicited bids from vendors to operate a 33,000-square-foot facility with a daily usage of 250 beds plus surge capacity. However, officials are making that request again, citing conflicts of interest with a panel tasked with recommending a provider.
It is unclear if the size and scope of the proposed facility will change with the new call for proposals.
City council meetings over the past few weeks have been attended by many who advocate for smaller shelters with options for drive-thru and tents to accommodate people uncomfortable with staying in larger shelters.
A City Council resolution proposing criteria for the new call for proposals exhibits these elements of a smaller, more mixed approach.
One of the criteria would limit proposals to shelters with 120 regular beds per day plus surge capacity.
In addition, the resolution calls for concepts that include both pallet shelter and drive-in housing models, and limit each model to up to 100 people. Proposals for these models would also need to include “a secure, 24-hour monitored fenced-in area,” while not being adjacent to another facility for the homeless.
Pallet canopies, manufactured by an Everett company, resemble tiny houses, although they contain no plumbing and can be assembled quickly.
Resolution may change. Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and Council President Breean Beggs, who worked on the legislation, asked council members on Thursday to submit feedback and any proposed changes.
Further discussions are expected on Monday, when the city council can vote on the measure.
“I think this would help inform the criteria (of the administration) for the next (call for proposals),” Councilor Zack Zappone said, “and then we can focus on best practice, which can save us money in the long run.” , because spending a lot of money on a large animal shelter that will not be successful will cost the taxpayer more money in the long term and also in the short term.”
It appears Mayor Nadine Woodward has identified a vacant warehouse on East Trent Avenue as the site for new housing. The city has yet to agree on a lease with the property’s owner, local developer Larry Stone.
The East Trent Avenue property is still on the table — at least for now, as Stone said in a statement to KXLY that he may have to rent to a private party if the council delays temporarily changing the zoning code to allow emergency housing in heavily industrialized areas .
“I love my city and I really want to help it,” he said in the statement. “But I don’t have the power to overcome city council obstacles or any other obstacles.”
Stone has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Spokesman-Review.
The council discussion on Thursday floated into the topic of stray sites in neighborhoods.
“There are mental health facilities in every neighborhood throughout Spokane that coexist with their neighbors and treatment centers with their neighbors,” Councilman Betsy Wilkerson said.
Councilor Michael Cathcart said he does not support placing shelters in residential or commercial zones. Previous attempts by the city to construct an emergency shelter have met with fierce opposition from neighbors.
Given the stress of finding just one location, Councilor Jonathan Bingle said that pursuing a scattered location approach was impossible for Woodward and the administration.
“This may not have been the best situation,” Bingle said, “but at least it was a step in helping us get people who are in very dangerous situations out of this situation.”
Continuum of Care Kerfuffle
Before discussing the resolution, the City Council heard from members of Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board what happened to the previous nomination process.
The Continuum of Care Board was commissioned by the city to recommend a provider proposal. Board co-chair Dale Briese said the board has a nine-member subcommittee specifically designated to consider motions for proposal.
Board involvement is a “formality,” Briese explained, since the proposal will not be funded at all by federal funds for the Continuum of Care and city leaders will make the final decision. He described a review process in which board members were given about a week by the city’s Department of Community Health and Human Services to do so.
“This was a quick turnaround with lots of questions, no budgets, no reflection, location, (point-in-time) count,” Briese said.
It’s unclear whether the Continuum of Care Board will be involved in the newly launched bidding process.
In a Tuesday press release, the city government announced the need for a retake for two reasons: conflict of interest and breach of procedure, as the proposals were shared outside the panel before the recommendation process was complete.
The conflict of interest could stem from one of the three submitted proposals, which identified Ben Stuckart, chair of the Continuum of Care Board, as a “first-year project manager” with a salary of $151,200 if the proposal were to go ahead.
The same proposal identified Compassionate Addiction Treatment as a project partner. Hallie Burchinal, executive director of Compassionate Addiction Treatment, is a board member.
The Spokesman review received copies of the three proposals.
While Stuckart and Burchinal withdrew from all voting, their alleged involvement in board discussions about the proposal violated the group’s conflicts of interest policy. Stuckart has questioned that notion, claiming the city invited him last week to attend a board meeting that raised the issue.
Briese told the council on Thursday that the bylaws allow board members to discuss matters if they withdraw from voting.
However, according to the board’s governance charter, that’s wrong.
Board members of founding states must fully disclose the nature of the interest and “abstain from discussion, lobbying, or voting” if they, or immediate family members, have a financial or personal interest in any matter before the board.
In any case, Briese said he felt the planning process could be done in a “healthier way” with the East Trent Avenue property.
“The best thing that could happen: ask the homeless,” he said. “Because if 100 homeless people or 150 out there in the tent city said, ‘I’d take a pallet home if you put it in this parking lot,’ you know what? We’re halfway behind us. We have to be inclined to ask the homeless what they want.”