One Step Forward, One Step Back
Little noticed in the hubbub of the recent election was an article in the Northwest Section of the Spokesman on Wednesday, November 9th, entitled, “Hope House women’s shelter to shutter in January”. Hope House, situated at the corner of West 3rd Ave and Adams Street in downtown Spokane, is run by Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. VOA is a national organization with local chapters (which can make navigating between their national and local websites somewhat confusing). VOA of E. WA and N. Idaho has run a shelter for homeless women named Hope House since 2000. Until last year Hope House offered 32 beds. Then, responding to growing need (See video):
In 2020, the nonprofit used federal and private dollars to build Hope House 2.0 and expanded the number of shelter beds from 32 to 100. The new facility opened in spring of 2021.
Now, just beyond the end of 2022, the 100 bed Hope House women’s shelter will have to close—for lack of operating funds. Hope House keep runs with a combination of private donations and money from the City of Spokane—and the latter money is falling short. It seems that Mayor Woodward, having been elected on a platform of solving homelessness, pumped 4.3M into “Expanded Emergency Shelter” (see page 25 of the 2022 Adopted Budget), presumably the “Trent Resource and Assistance Center (TRAC)” at Trent and Mission, and the budget now lacks funds to continue providing support to Hope House. (The Trent facility, an out-of-the-way warehouse, is leased from Larry Stone, a local developer partly responsible for getting Ms. Woodward elected—See “Curing Spokane”.)
This seems an example of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Ms. Woodward’s much ballyhooed Trent Resource and Assistance Center (TRAC) may eventually gear up to 250 low barrier beds after a rocky management turnover from the Guardians to the Salvation Army. The Woodward administration apparently doesn’t allocate enough money in the billion dollar proposed 2023 budget(346 pages) to keep the existing broader shelter system running while still funding TRAC. Gain (at a stretch) 250 underutilized beds at TRAC—and lose 100 well-utilized beds at Hope House. One step forward, one step back.
Meanwhile, the Woodward administration has failed to access more than 8.5M in available grant money (See RANGE Media’s “Passing on the bucks”). The same article details the Woodward administration’s inability to hang onto two successive Directors of the department of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services (NHHS), the city agency responsible for coordinating the efforts to combat homelessness. (Confusingly, the Community Housing and Human Services (CHHS) department is a division of NHHS.)
According to Brian Coddington, spokesperson for Mayor Woodward’s office, the City of Spokane will have provided $1M for the operational costs of Hope House during fiscal year 2022, although you’d be hard pressed to figure that out by reading or word-searching the 126 page adopted 2022 City of Spokane budget. (For perspective, the total City of Spokane 2022 Budget is $1B, $217M of which is “General Fund”.)
A major goal of Ms. Woodward and those who support her has been to provide enough shelter space (used or not) to satisfy Martin v. Boise, enough available beds to free up the city to “clear” homeless people from Camp Hope and the city in general. So far Woodward has spent a large amount of money on a high-profile, one-size-fits-all solution (TRAC) and in the process, it seems, she has managed to undermine other parts of the existing system.
The Hope House closure of a 100 in-demand beds downtown reserved for homeless women, people understandably daunted by an out-of-the-way congregate shelter with an untested risk profile, is tragic—but what sort of administrator did we expect when we elected a TV news announcer to be mayor? Keep this in mind as we move into 2023, a municipal election year.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Mayor Woodward, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, and City of Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl—all vocal proponents of forced closure of Camp Hope—must be pleased that the upcoming closure of VOA’s Hope House was mostly lost last week in the flurry of election news. The Hope House closure further undermines their false claims of adequate existing shelter space. One might hope that Knezovich’s and Meidl’s grandstanding on their crime narrative around Camp Hope will taper off now that the elections have passed and, thus, talking up crime serves less electoral purpose.
P.P.S. You should subscribe and donate to RANGE Media. Every Friday RANGE sends out an email detailing the local meetings and issues of import in local government for the following week. Last Friday, November 11, Luke Baumgarten titled the email, “A New Hope for Hope House and other shelters”. It sheds light on a meeting of the Spokane City Urban Experience Committee to be held today, Monday, November 14, at 1:15PM where part of the agenda is discussion of a proposed City Council “Resolution Committing to Prioritize Funds for Current Shelter Providers” offered by City Council President Breean Beggs. The Resolution would head off Woodward’s budgetary debacle defunding homeless shelters. There is no public comment period at this committee meeting, but one could send a email note of support to their Council Members.
Who knew there was a “Spokane City Urban Experience Committee” that had any say in what happens at City Council meeting? This committee and ten others—that are not easy to locate on the my.spokanecity.org website—are part of the function of local government of which most of us (including me) were/are unaware. This is not the civics taught in high school—and if it were, since many of us went to high school in other states, what we learned might well not be applicable to the town in which we now live. It’s time for us to sit up and pay attention.