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Spokane Agencies Scramble on $35.4M Housing Proposal

(The Center Square) – Spokane agencies and service partners had 30 days to figure out how to spend $24.3 million in state funds to relocate people out of a large homeless encampment on state land next to Interstate 90.

On Thursday, officials from the City of Spokane and Spokane County, in collaboration with other agencies and service providers, scrambled to put the final touches on a proposal for the Department of Commerce.

That plan seeks $34.5 million to house 1,447 people if all projects are approved by Commerce.

The money was originally offered by the state agency only to get people moved out of Camp Hope. That encampment is located on Washington Department of Transportation property near the freeway and Freya Street. 

Spokane will take the lead on administrating the millions to enact whatever portion of the final plan that Commerce approves.

“We relied on previous collaborations and plans already in place to grow and build new partnerships that will move individuals from an inhumane outdoor environment into safe and healthy spaces,” said Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward in a written statement on Thursday. “Working together, we came up with a very solid, comprehensive plan in a very short amount of time.”

The partners submitted an initial request for the first 30% of original funding last week. That money would be used, in part, for assessments on the needs of Camp Hope residents conducted by multiple local agencies. These assessments would be used to help build trust and match an individual with the best housing solution, say local officials.

In addition, a former Sunset Highway motel would be purchased and retrofitted into permanent housing for up to 110 people.

Dollars were also requested to purchase 30 two-person living pods to create private space inside the new shelter on Trent Avenue. That request has  doubled in the full proposal.

The final request allows for additional improvements to the city’s new Trent Avenue shelter, such as permanent showers, restrooms and laundry facilities.

Transportation to provide access to services and employment is also factored into the proposal.

Two more case workers would be added to Community Court to help people access services instead of being prosecuted for offenses. One worker would dedicate time to existing shelters.

If the final proposal is approved, existing buildings will be purchased and rehabilitated to provide affordable housing alternatives. Other options for permanent affordable housing will be explored.

Rental assistance will be made available for individuals and families with working RVs to cover space fees in existing campgrounds.  

“It was critically important that we direct as much resource as possible to permanent housing,” Woodward said. “Emergency shelters meet an immediate need, but the long-term solution is more permanent housing.”

A deadline has not been established for reviewing and approving the plan, but the request for proposals from Commerce included an expectation of significant action beginning in August.

“The Commerce funds give us a unique opportunity to provide our houseless residents with beds, doors for privacy and security, bathrooms with running water and comprehensive services that will support their transition into permanent housing,” Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said in a written statement. “For too long the lack of financial resources and political will has led too many of us to accept less than the basics of human dignity, and the collaboration between the mayor and council will propel our entire community forward.”

The city council is expected to consider the contract for the Trent shelter operator on Monday. It has already approved zoning and lease considerations for the shelter. Tenant improvements are already in progress and the shelter is expected to open in August.

“Our goal is to meet the campers where they are at in their individual journeys by providing services that help them take their next safe, healthy, and humane steps toward exiting homelessness,” Woodward said.