The Special Homelessness Subcommittee met in a meeting at the Bell Building Second Floor Conference Room on September 8 to identify properties suitable for a homeless shelter and more.
The property had to be located within the C-4, C-6, M-1, or M-2 Zones and within a quarter mile of a transit route. City staff sent out 1,500 letters and has heard back from 130 people: 59 who were not interested and 71 who were. Individuals interested were located around City Hall, Idaho, and G Streets. Others were on 21st Street near the intersection of 12th and East Main.
The Community Development Director Von Tersch stated that another idea would be to potentially build a tiny house community, partnering with the School District for construction. Whether these houses were considered long-term or short-term would determine the number of amenities available in each home.
Michelle King asked if the list of those interested takes into consideration the city’s requirements for parking, bike racks, fencing, etc. Ms. Von Tersch replied that it does not.
Councilor Tousley explained that this first meeting is to try to determine how the group would like to move forward. There are non-profit representatives present, but the goal is to get more to attend. The Council has also asked that other governmental entities within the Valley be invited to participate to identify objectives and others to contact.
Molly Pollastrini asked what is being done about the creation of a homeless shelter now, as she believes it should be up and running by October. Pollastrini further explained the Salvation Army is not willing to help again this year unless they are paid substantially more than last year, ( around $350,000 for 6 months). She also explained they would not implement the shelter unless it was 100% funded.
Mr. Iacoboni added to the community’s concerns by explaining there is a need for a warming shelter in the Valley when the weather gets cold and a long-term shelter after that.
King noted that in the past, adults were coming to the Youth Resource Center due to cold weather, but this was not possible. In this community, the only unlocked building with heat during the night is the Post Office, however, there are no restroom facilities available.
It has to be determined where the City will allow a long-term solution, but it is also extremely important for them to be cognitive of the liability of the community for displaced individuals.
Iacoboni reported that First Step for Life ran a warming shelter in 2019, but was not willing to do it again in 2020 after they realized how much work it was. He further explained many agencies were contacted to take this on, but the problem was the liability. He noted that it took the Adult Resource Center 16 months to get the Salvation Army up and running, with location and money being the biggest issues, grants and personal donations came through to make it ultimately possible.
Councilor Forsmann said focusing on the short-term needs to get a warming shelter in place should be the effort of this group first, while King argued it is important to have both even if a temporary facility could be found, that only focuses on the winter months. King further explained it could take up to six months to get a long-term facility up and running, so it is important to start now.
Pollastrini explained she believes there is nobody else in this community who would take on a warming shelter, adding that the Adult Resource Center was the last hope, and Iacoboni added the group chose the Inland Cellular building because it was the one place that fit all the requirements and criteria established for such a facility.
Ms. King reported that in 2020, the Adult Resource Center worked with United Way who led the charge with Tri-State serving as the fiscal agent. However, this effort was stopped in Legal due to liability. She added that when discussions first began, 20 non-profits attended a meeting with nobody willing to take on the risks.
Councilor Tousley stated that he was told that money may be available through the Washington Department of Commerce. Emily Ashby replied that money is collected from recording fees at the County level. Then, a portion of that is allocated and some has been used to fund the housing coordinator position. King noted that some of the money has also been utilized to put individuals up in hotels.
Councilor Forsmann stressed that it would be valuable to have Clarkston and Asotin involved in these discussions. Ms. King agreed this would be great for the long-term, but said it’s sad that something can’t be done to get a warming shelter in place now.
Iacoboni added that there isn’t time to get a warming shelter in place due to funding and lack of a building. He noted that is why the Adult Resource Center came to the City to see if they had any buildings that could be utilized.
Mr. Iocaboni explained that the point in time count shows homeless at 140 to 150 people. He noted this is an imperfect way to measure it. When combined with eviction rates and rising costs, those numbers are diabolically opposed to each other.
Lastly, Ken Krahn said he believes this group is fighting a losing battle until a few things happen. He suggested that there is a need for a controlled environment within a confined area for the homeless where they can learn a skill or trade. He said, “these people” cannot continue to roam free and provided with handouts. Mr. Krahn noted this should be paid for by the federal government and the taxpayers of Lewiston should not be required to take on this expense.
Subcommittee members will continue their discussions Tuesday, September 22 at 3 p.m. in the Bell Building – 215 D Street – Second Floor Conference Room