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Northeast Spokane homeless shelter could see new delays due to conflict over service provider

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward is negotiating a lease for a shelter on Trent Avenue.
Spokane County Assessors Office
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward is negotiating a lease for a shelter on Trent Avenue.

A proposed homeless shelter in an industrial area in Northeast Spokane has hit another snag. A board Mayor Nadine Woodward asked to review and sign off on a service provider couldn’t come to a consensus. The mayor argues it was because some committee members had a conflict of interest.

In a response, she says she will restart the application process and launch a new committee to review and score the service providers that apply.

Woodward has said the shelter will have capacity for more than 200 people, and the city will provide both services and shuttles to the people staying there. They say they’ve looked at over 90 sites before finding the Trent location, which is near Spokane Community College and the Spokane County Fairgrounds.

Woodward’s proposed shelter has already run into issues with zoning, and is now facing a delay in selecting a service provider. A committee of community volunteers, people with lived homeless experience and service providers, couldn’t come to a consensus, saying there were too many unanswered questions. The group, known as the Continuum of Care Board, is responsible for managing some homelessness grant funding that flows into Spokane County.

Woodward says she sought the board’s expertise in response to an auditthat was released last year looking into potential conflict of interest issues in the city’s homeless and human service department.

She says two board members, one of which is former City Council President Ben Stuckart, influenced the board's conversation.

“The review committee did come up with a suggested provider,” Woodward said, “That recommendation was then discussed within the full [Continuum of Care] board, which those two individuals recused themselves from voting as a board members, but were still very active in the conversation about the suggested provider, in a way that could influence the COC board vote.”

The three finalists to operate the new shelter were the Salvation Army, the Guardians Foundation, and Jewels Helping Hands - the group that Stuckart was assisting.

Stuckart, who is also the chair of the Continuum of Care Board, says he stayed out of committee meetings where provider proposals were evaluated, and recused himself in the same way he did when conflict of interest issues came up when he was a city council member.

He says in the long run, Woodward needs the city council, not the committee, to sign off on a provider.

“The [Continuum of Care Board] does not have statutory authority, we could vote yes, we could vote no, and it doesn't matter, he said. “We don't have the ability to kill a project that doesn't involve COC money.”

Woodward says she plans to rework the application for service providers and restart the search. She says she also plans to launch a city committee to review applications, but says she is still exploring who in the community will have a seat at that table.

She says she is interested in having people with lived experience on the committee, but does not yet have information on its future makeup, or what the revised shelter provider application will look like.

“We’re just in discussions right now, we’re starting all over again, so those are unfortunately questions we can’t answer today,” she said.

Woodward says reworking the application will delay the shelter’s opening as well.

He says a revised request for proposals may lead to a smoother process once building, and the operator come before the city council. He said during the meeting, several board members felt uncomfortable with endorsing the proposal because of the number of people the provider would be responsible for and by the lack of detail on the costs.

The Spokane City Council is scheduled to discuss this issue Thursday at 11 a.m.during their weekly study session.

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.