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Spokane City Council votes to fund Hope House, other shelters through 2023

hope house.jpg
Courtesy of Volunteers of America
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Shelter beds at the Hope House in downtown Spokane.

The Spokane City Council has voted to keep existing homeless shelters funded through the end of next year, prioritizing them before new shelter projects.

Shelter providers Hope House, Family Promise and Catholic Charities all depend on the city of Spokane to fund hundreds of beds for people experiencing homelessness. Several of those shelters received extra federal aid to expand their operations during the pandemic as costs, and the number of people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness increased.

Much of that aid, as well as city funding those shelters were expecting, was not budgeted, or will not continue next year, said Rae-Lynn Barden, communications director of Hope House operator Volunteers of America.

Hope House had announced it would close its doors in January if no new resources were made available.

“We're asking for equity, is it equitable to fully fund brand new shelters while legacy operators who provide matching private dollars are left to compete over insufficient funds,” she said.

Barden's concerns were echoed by Jonathan Mallahan, the vice president of housing at Catholic Charities.

“We share the concerns of our partners, that funding new shelters should not come at the detriment of our existing system,” he said. “We can't afford to lose those critical beds that serve men and women now. We're asking for a thoughtful process to prioritize shelter funding to first preserve existing shelter beds before funding new facilities.”

Some of those funds that could have been used continue funding for those shelters may have been absorbed by Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s newest shelter, the Trent Resource and Assistance Center. That shelter cost more than $2 million this year and is expected to cost more than $6 million next year.

Every city council member, except Betsy Wilkerson who was absent, supported the proposal.

Woodward has previously spoken out against the council’s proposal, saying providers always knew their pandemic aid would run out, and that she had proposed several ideas the city council shot down. She argued the city’s severe budget issues, were caused by a city council mandate to provider shelter during extreme cold, heat or smoke events.

“Council will often through ordinance require the administration to stand up shelters, and programs without any idea of how we’re going to fund them,” Woodward said in an interview last week.

Several city council members, such as Lori Kinnear, said they’re hopeful the one-year funding will give them time to organize a regional approach.

“When I talk to folks in Liberty Lake, when I talk to city of the valley, or Cheney, 'we don't have a homeless problem we say,' well yes you do,” she said. “Those are folks who have lived in your towns in your cities and in Spokane because you have no services. This is a regional issue.”

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.