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Spokane city gov’t and homeless service providers work to cope with extreme cold

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown, joined by city council members, city officials and homeless service provers, briefs the press on steps taken to expand shelter capacity, Thursday, January 11.
Brandon Hollingsworth, SPR News
Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown, joined by city council members, city officials and homeless service provers, briefs the press on steps taken to expand shelter capacity, Thursday, January 11.

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday, hours before temperatures began to fall to the lowest predicted levels since December 2022.

The declaration helps the city respond more swiftly to an emergency, Brown said. The city’s main thrust is to expand available space in homeless shelters. Brown’s office said Thursday evening that 261 emergency family beds and 744 emergency single beds were available. It was hoped that another 183 beds could be made available over the next week.

The “surge capacity” beds will be available at Hope House, Family Promise, Compassionate Addiction Treatment, and the Trent shelter, according to Brown’s office. More information about shelters can be found on the city’s hazard sheltering website.

Two Spokane churches -- Liberty Park Methodist near the Perry District and New Apostolic Church in the Garland – will offer up to 20 beds each, under an arrangement with homeless service provider Jewels Helping Hands.

Garcia told Spokane Public Radio more space could be coming soon.

“We have five other churches that are either going to come on board or almost on board to be able to open up and our goal is to have five locations for the next month and a half,” she said.

Garcia says Jewels Helping Hands will have employees and volunteers monitoring both locations and provide donated supplies, such as blankets and food, to guests. It will also provide rides for people who can’t get to the shelters.

The shelter building on Cannon Street, which closed last May, has been revived and is ready to open. Brown’s office said the city inked an agreement that brings Compassionate Addiction Treatment (CAT) on board as the operator. Spokane housing manager Dawn Kinder said Thursday CAT is working to hire and train staff. City officials hope Cannon Street within the next week to two weeks.

"We know that any time we're asking a provider to stand up an entirely new operation, it's impossible overnight in most cases, given the staffing required to be safe," Kinder said.

Available surge capacity at existing shelters will be exercised first, Kinder said.

City libraries will act as warming centers during daytime hours. Spokane Transit Authority buses will offer free rides to people who are traveling to warming centers but have no way to pay for a standard ride. Briefing the city council Thursday, Brown and Spokane Emergency Management Director Sarah Nuss said the administration is working on arrangements to expand the warming center concept to other facilities, such as community centers.

The money for the shelter response is coming from a dedicated pool within the city budget. But Brown said the weather emergency underscored questions about Spokane’s longer-term approach to shelters and funding, which will be the subject of future conversations.

Daily high temperatures in the region will reach low single digits this weekend, and lows will fall below zero across much of eastern Washington and north Idaho. Saturday is forecast to bring the coldest temperatures of the period. Wind chills could make the air feel as cold as 30 degrees below zero.

High temperatures are forecast to climb back into the teens by Tuesday, but a return to pre-cold snap temperatures is not in the cards until Wednesday or Thursday of next week, according to National Weather Service forecasts.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty 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.
Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.