Community services

Spokane City Council approves zoning change to allow shelters and ‘community services’ in heavy industrial areas

Homeless shelters run by public or nonprofit agencies will be permitted in heavy industrial areas of Spokane until at least November.

Spokane City Council approved the temporary zoning change on Monday as the city administration continues efforts to set up a shelter in a vacant 32,500 square foot warehouse on East Trent Avenue, a project whose need has amplified by the growing homeless population and the lack of shelter beds.

The city council was approached last month with similar legislation billed as an emergency ordinance, which needs a supermajority to pass. The measure failed to garner enough votes.

Monday’s legislation, also an emergency ordinance, passed 6-0 with Council Speaker Breean Beggs absent. The order takes effect immediately and remains in effect until November 7, unless extended or revoked.

A public hearing to assess the temporary change is scheduled for July 11.

While Monday’s legislation passed unanimously, a number of council members still have questions about the finances of the East Trent Avenue proposal.

This includes Council members Betsy Wilkerson and Karen Stratton, whose negative votes in April were then enough to reject the initial zoning proposal.

Wilkerson, who chairs the board’s finance and administration committee, reiterated that she voted the way she did given the number of unknowns, namely operating and rental costs.

Meanwhile, Wilkerson said the city is preparing to renew agreements next month with operators of other existing citywide facilities.

“This change of zone has stopped a critical conversation. We are not talking about cost. We don’t talk about sustainability,” Wilkerson said, later adding, “We have existing vendors doing a great job saying they can’t do it, and now we have this other entity that we don’t have. no idea of ​​the cost. will be. So finding funding is going to be a permanent problem.

In a statement after Monday’s vote, Mayor Nadine Woodward said the zoning change is one of three steps needed to open the East Trent Avenue shelter, the other two being the lease and an agreement with the shelter operators.

Woodward said the city is in the final stages of negotiating the lease.

“Sidewalks, alleys and fields are not safe or humane places for people,” she said in a news release after the council voted. “This zoning change gives the City additional flexibility to provide people with a safe place to sleep indoors and support individuals in the next steps of their journey.”

The wording of Monday’s order is slightly different from the measure that failed in April.

While the first attempt limited permitted uses in specifically planned heavy industrial areas to “only indoor emergency shelters,” the measure passed Monday allows all “community services” as defined by Spokane’s municipal code.

“Community services” are defined as “public, not-for-profit or charitable uses that generally provide a service in the community to people in the community”. Examples listed include mass shelters, short-term housing when run by a public or non-profit agency, libraries, museums, senior centers, social service facilities, health stations, etc. ambulance and hospices, among others.

Giacobbe Byrd, legislative aide to Councilor Lori Kinnear, said the change was made because the definition was closest in the zoning code to covering shelter use.

City Administrator Johnnie Perkins said the administration hopes to have answers to council’s financial questions about the East Trent Avenue shelter by June 6.

This is when the administration aims to approach the council with a recommended shelter provider, associated running costs and details of the rental agreement, including monthly cost, terms and obligations to the city.

“We want to be collaborative,” Perkins said. “We want to work with this council, the business community and all residents here to ensure that we move forward on a path that respects the integrity of how taxpayers’ money is used and also respects the integrity of those who are most vulnerable as we try to provide the services to move them forward.

A request for proposals process seeking potential operators and service providers for the proposed East Trent Avenue shelter was relaunched earlier this month. A restart was necessary due to conflicts of interest during the initial process involving the Spokane Continuum of Care Council, which was responsible for recommending a submitted proposal, city officials said.

The latest RFP invites applications from potential operators and service providers for a facility with an estimated minimum daily usage of 150 beds, capable of scaling up to 250 beds based on demand, as well as a capacity additional peak in case of emergency, such as bad weather. .

The facility should also offer comprehensive services, such as case management and access to resources such as mental health and addiction treatment.

Submissions are due Thursday.

“I think it’s really important, obviously, that we look at the costs and do it very closely, but the costs and the zoning change have no correlation,” Councilman Michael Cathcart said. “We can have two separate conversations about this and get to the bottom of it.”

Eric Finch, acting director of neighborhoods, housing and social services, said the current RFP process will have a different review committee, though it’s bound by the same constraints as the continuum council. care.

Members will include one representative from each of the following groups: Continuum of Care Council; a neighborhood council; the City’s Community, Housing and Social Services Board; a business within a quarter mile of the proposed site; the Spokane Housing Authority; and two service providers who did not respond to the call for tenders.

While City Council was promised a clearer picture with the East Trent Avenue shelter, Perkins was unsure on Monday if he would get an update on the city’s level of commitment to support. the relocated shelter of the House of Charity of the Catholic Charities.

Woodward announced during his State of the City address last month that the city would support Catholic Charities’ “House of Charity 2.0” project to move the House of Charity shelter out of downtown. This aid, she then said, will come by helping the association find public funding as well as operational support.

Stratton cited the non-binding letter of interest drafted by Catholic Charities which further outlines the city’s potential role, including a proposal for the city to coordinate with county municipalities to fund the capital development of House of Charity 2.0 and running costs over five years.

Between that and the plans along East Trent Avenue, Stratton said the city “takes a huge amount.”

“I will support that,” she said of the order, “but I want people to understand that we have no idea what it’s going to cost.”