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New Spokane homeless shelter hits snag in zoning vote

Nick Bramhall via flickr

The Spokane City Council voted down a zoning change that would have allowed the mayor to place a homeless shelter to be in an industrial zone.

Council members voting against it said they had too many unanswered questions. The mayor’s office said the rejection could put them months behind, and puts the city at risk of not having a shelter available when the cold snap hits this winter.

Mayor Nadine Woodward has been searching for a homeless shelter since last fall. Last week, she put forward a site in an industrial area near the fairgrounds and Spokane Community College, and asked the city council to make temporary zoning code changes to allow the shelter to open.

Several groups pushed back against the proposed shelter site, including Julie Garcia, an activist and founder of Homeless Service non-profit Jewels Helping Hands.

“As much as I love the idea of opening up areas for homeless shelters, and I do 100%, I do believe there needs to be better analysis of locations and people who are part of this population, or serve this population, (need to) help determine those areas,” Garcia said.

Kevin Brockbank, President of Spokane Community College, which is near the proposed site, also raised concerns. He said the Community College has childcare on site, and also has hundreds of high school students attending who are enrolled in the Running Start Program.

“Our college is the largest neighbor with the largest footprint, 130 acres, most traffic, thousands of people on a typical day, and a site serving local Spokane youth in an education setting,” Brockbank said, “yet we have not been consulted and we have not been contacted in any manner.”

The city council could not reach the five-votes necessary to allow the change, potentially putting the shelter site in jeopardy. Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson and Karen Stratton voted against it, and city councilman Zack Zappone was absent from the meeting.

City Councilman President Breean Beggs and Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, voted for the proposal, along with Northeast Councilman Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle.

Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson says she was concerned by the lack of detail in the mayor’s plan.

“Going forward I'm not supporting the zoning change until I see the total package of what the shelter cost is going to look like,” she said.

City Manager Johnnie Perkins told the city council that the Mayor’s office is working to improve communication and will soon have more details. He says the proposal’s rejection could delay the city’s homeless response.

“There is no other site in Spokane,” Perkins said, “If we have to start over, it's going to be another six months. Winter will be here again before we have a shelter.”

He says Woodward’s administration is also working toward a meeting with community college leaders.

Spokane City Council members said their rejection of the zoning change was not necessarily a rejection of the entire site. With more information and conversation with neighbors, such as the Spokane Community College, they said they may reconsider.

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.