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Spokane City Council could consider capacity restrictions at homeless shelters as trouble launching Trent site continues

A photo from the Spokane County Assessor's office of the proposed Trent Avenue homeless shelter.
Spokane County Assessor's Office
A photo from the Spokane County Assessor's office of the proposed Trent Avenue homeless shelter.

The Spokane City Council is considering putting restrictions on future homeless shelters to ensure that any site the city pursues meets minimum safety standards and isn’t overcrowded.

Last year the Spokane City Council voted to require the mayor’s office to provide shelter during extreme hot, or cold weather. Mayor Nadine Woodward has reviewed more than 90 sites since then, ultimately selecting a building in an industrial area near Spokane Community College and the Spokane County Fairgrounds.

But finalizing the shelter is running into problems. The city council and a committee of volunteers Woodward asked to review the plans said there were unanswered questions about the cost, renovations and the proposed 250-person capacity.

During a study session Thursday, Spokane City Council member Lori Kinnear said the city council may adopt their own requirements.

“We have time now to really look at what is needed - what's going to work,” Kinnear said. “Because the last thing we want to do is repeat two failed experiments and have them fail again. That would be devastating with all the money we're spending. I want to see us go forward, but thoughtfully.”

Kinnear is referring to a temporary shelter set up last winter at the Spokane Convention Center that housed more than 300 people. The building sustained tens of thousands of dollars in damage, and city leaders and community activists urged the mayor to pursue smaller, more spread out sites. Woodward has said pushback from neighborhoods and businesses has made it nearly impossible to find more sites.

Both Kinnear, and City Council President Breean Beggs say they support Woodward’s chosen site, but need concrete details and a plan.

The city council is considering requirements that limits capacity to 120 to 150 people, includes space for on-site services, has transportation access and offers lockable storage. Not all council members agree on the proposed requirements, and the list will likely will be amended before the rules are considered for a potential vote during the city council’s next meeting Monday evening.

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.