The backlash was quick.
Rumors spread in early January that an emergency homeless shelter might be located in a former Albertsons grocery store on 37th Avenue.
They were quickly branded fake by city officials, but the opposition whirlwind was a strong reminder that it’s a formidable challenge to open a homeless shelter without encountering resistance from the people who live and work around it. from him.
Advocates are pressuring Nadine Woodward to open a new emergency shelter at least through the winter, but she says she’s likely to run into not-in-my-backyard attitudes wherever they go .
Woodward supports the concept of a new shelter, but has yet to land on a location.
“Wherever you’re trying to find shelter, we’ve seen a setback in the two years I’ve been in the job,” Woodward said.
The not-so-distant history supports his claim.
After COVID-19 forced existing homeless shelters to increase social distancing measures and limit their capacity, Spokane County deployed its federal aid dollars to purchase a building at 55 W. Mission Ave.
The Salvation Army has been tapped to operate the temporary shelter, with plans to eventually convert it into a regionally funded ‘bridge housing programme’, the latest leg of a journey out of homelessness with demands more stringent from its guests than a traditional low-barrier shelter.
Concerns expressed by the neighborhood threatened that long-term plan, and members of the city council – who fielded calls and emails from constituents – complained that the shelter had been opened in haste and without input from the piece.
After much consternation expressed by council members, the council approved a five-year funding commitment for the new bridge housing shelter, dubbed the Way Out Center, but continues to press for him to sign a good neighborhood. They also demanded that the building never be used as an emergency shelter like the type the city is currently seeking.
While there is no clear model for a Good Neighbor Agreement in Spokane, the general concept is to set mutual expectations between the shelter and the surrounding neighborhood regarding issues such as on-site safety.
The Salvation Army staunchly refused to sign an agreement, and the nonprofit’s leaders questioned why it was being asked to sign an agreement that existing shelters never have.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton said the city initially facilitated conversations between the shelter and the surrounding Emerson-Garfield neighborhood, but they died out.
“The city, we failed,” Stratton said.
Spokane’s Woman’s Club briefly served as a temporary shelter last spring. The case rocked the neighborhood and the small club, whose leaders claimed the building was only mistakenly handed over to homeless service provider Jewels Helping Hands.
It was the second time this winter that the association had drawn the wrath of the neighbours.
He previously ran a shelter inside the town church in the Garland district, which neighbors say failed to deliver on promises made by leaders of the nonprofit when they moved in.
And in the final days of his administration in 2019, former Mayor David Condon proposed a new shelter on East Sprague Avenue. Support from city council members – who initially approved a tentative purchase agreement on the property – waned after concerns were raised that the shelter would be adjacent to a non-profit organization that provides services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
As it continues the search for a new shelter for months, the Woodward administration has faced questions about why it is focusing on finding a single large building instead of small neighborhood shelters. .
His response is partly based on fear of the neighborhood’s reaction.
“Trying to find a location is tough,” Woodward said. “I can’t imagine being so successful.”
Finding a new shelter is difficult, but the alternative – not opening a shelter – is “also a NIMBY problem”, Council Chairman Breean Beggs said. This brings homeless people to sleep in the city center gates and in encampments near the river.
“There’s no perfect way to do it without people complaining,” Beggs said. “If you have a process that has some semblance of rationality and fairness, then you’re doing everything you can to mitigate (the impacts on the neighborhood) and you’re being as transparent about it as possible, that’s all. what you can do.”
Stratton said she’s had enough of the excuse that shelters will meet resistance from neighborhoods.
“We don’t have good neighbor agreements, other cities do, and at least have enough respect for all the players to talk to each other and what the expectations are,” Stratton said.
Volunteers of America is often known for its positive relationship with the neighborhoods surrounding its shelters, including Hope House and Crosswalk.
Fawn Schott, CEO of Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, noted that her shelters serve populations — such as women and young adults — who tend to garner more sympathy from potential neighbors.
Still, Schott noted that he places shelters — like the new young adult shelter near Spokane Community College — with great care and consideration for his surroundings. The non-profit organization engages early and often with neighborhood councils. When opened, it reminds customers that they are part of a neighborhood and what those responsibilities entail. Neighbors have a 24/7 phone number to call in case of an emergency.
“We are active and engaged,” Schott said.
However, all this work takes time. And that’s something the city doesn’t have much of.