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Spokane City leaders struggle to find new emergency warming center site

Nick Bramhall via flickr

In the days following the city’s closure of an emergency warming shelter in the Spokane Convention Center, Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration has struggled to find a replacement site.

The Spokane City Council has argued her administration wasn’t prepared when the cold weather hit, and may need to compromise on a solution.

Woodward said she’s been searching for a new shelter location since the start of the pandemic. The city was initially searching for social distancing shelter space, and is now attempting to comply with a city ordinance that requires the administrative to provide space during extreme cold, or hot events and when shelter capacity exceeds 90%.

Woodward said running the Convention Center as a shelter cost approximately $400,000 for to weeks. The city will likely be on the hook for at least $90,000 in damages to the building from its use as well, mostly for the bathrooms.

In the past, the city has used the libraries, which was renovated immediately following its use as a homeless shelter, and the Looff Carrousel.

Woodward said the ideal shelter is at least 20,000 square feet, far from schools, daycares, neighborhoods and businesses.

“If we can find a building, a building that we can use that's a little more long-term than just temporary, that would be ideal,” she said. “Because moving populations from building to building and changing up what we offer is difficult. It needs to be something that I think is more consistent, and more predictable. That's why the goal is to get us space that's big enough so we can utilize it for whatever hazard sheltering situation we find ourselves in."

She said the city’s called on the county, the state and now the community for help.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said the city should consider compromising on its criteria, such as considering several smaller spaces.

"We know that places like Hope House, and Crosswalk, and the Way Out Shelter, and the young adult shelter, those are all run very well in neighborhoods, in business districts without a lot of complaints about the people who are there,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with who you choose as an operator and what your protocols are, and how many people that you have there, and what your physical structure is."

Beggs said he’s hoping Woodward’s administration will provide a list of potential properties to discuss with the city council so the body can assist with finding a new temporary shelter as soon as possible.

A joint Spokane City Council and Woodward administration meeting is scheduled at 11 a.m. today.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.