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Spokane City Council approves more funding for Trent shelter

The exterior of the Trent Resource and Assistance Center is seen in a file photo.
Spokane County

Spokane’s city council voted Monday to ply $6.1 million dollars in American Rescue Plan funding into the Trent Resource and Assistance Center.

The emergency proposal, sponsored by council members Jonathan Bingle, Betsy Wilkerson and Zack Zappone, said spending the federal Covid relief money on the privately-owned Trent shelter was necessary “in order to bridge the gap” for a funding deficit going into 2024.

Council members’ pre-vote discussion indicated the group feels caught between a palette of undesirable choices, but on a tight deadline to keep the Trent shelter open as winter approaches.

“I know this is a tough pill to swallow, but we’ve got to keep people safe,” Councilwoman Karen Stratton said. “They at least have to have a roof over their head, despite the fact that it’s a warehouse and people should not be living in it.”

The largest share of the redirected money – $4 million – was intended for an affordable housing project. $1.2 million will come from a mobile medical program that failed to draw a qualified bidder. Six-figure amounts were originally designated for eviction defense, administrative support and a community engagement coordinator.

The funding proposal said the eviction defense, community engagement, and administrative support funds were no longer needed for their intended purposes. The $4 million for affordable housing will instead be covered by local sales tax money under HB 1590, a 2020 state law that allows local governments to raise dedicated funds for housing and related services. That didn’t sit well with Councilman Michael Cathcart.

“I have committed very strongly to defending 1590, and I believe that this is effectively just using 1590 for a purpose that it was not approved for,” Cathcart said.

The Trent shelter – sometimes referred to by its acronym, TRAC – is owned by local developer Larry Stone, a critic of the city’s chronic homelessness and political ally of Mayor Nadine Woodward. The city pays Stone a little more than $26,000 a month to operate the building. Stone has denied he’s profiting from the arrangement, telling The Inlander that he purchased the warehouse only because the city was struggling to find a building that could be used as a shelter.

Despite a million-dollar allocation in May, TRAC still does not have indoor restrooms or showers for its residents. Range Media reported its heating and cooling system struggles to keep up with Spokane’s hot summers and frigid winters, and its entrances are not well-suited for people with mobility issues.

City council members have often said TRAC isn’t their ideal solution to Spokane’s chronic homelessness, but that no better options were immediately available when the facility opened in the summer of 2022. Similar sentiments were expressed again Monday.

“We are right back where we were last year at this time: unsure funding, no other options were presented to us,” Wilkerson said. “It is disappointing that we have asked, as a council, for a plan for as long as I can remember, and one has never been provided to us.”

Despite that, Wilkerson said she would vote to use the ARPA money to keep the shelter afloat, because she did “not want our people out in the cold in the winter months.”

Comparing the situation to the movie Groundhog Day, Council President Lori Kinnear said, “Nothing’s changed. It’s very disappointing. Like all of you, I can’t vote to not fund this and have people out in the cold. So I will be supporting [moving the APRA funds], but I’m not happy about it.”

Councilman Michael Cathcart was the sole ‘no’ vote, expressing his concern about the proposal’s reliance on one-time-only money, the broader lack of a long-term budget plan for TRAC, and the redirection of affordable housing money to the shelter.

The longer-term future of TRAC is still unclear. Candidates in this year’s city council and mayoral races are split on the value and wisdom of the shelter, and the current council has expressed an interest in ending the city’s involvement sometime in 2024.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.