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Employees, business owners petition against homeless housing in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. - Plans for new homeless housing in downtown Spokane is getting some pushback from local businesses. Employees and business owners from about 40 businesses along Division Street have signed a petition in hopes of stopping Catholic Charities from building any more housing in the area.

Catholic Charities held a press conference Tuesday to respond to the petition.

"Here's a spoiler: we're not going to do that," said executive director Rob McCann. "We will never, ever apologize for the work of serving the poor at Catholic Charities."

Linda Biel, the owner of Urbanna Salon and Spa on Division, started the petition. She told KXLY4 she went door-to-door, to about 40 different businesses to get signatures. Biel said she's had several run-ins with the homeless over the years outside her business.

"They act out. They're like little children in big bodies and they have issues that need to be dealt with," Biel said. "They're intoxicated, they've overdosed or they're having some mentally ill crisis."

Biel said she isn't against the idea of homeless housing, but she'd like to see it expand outside of downtown Spokane.

"Because they're surrounded by other people with the same troubling issues, their perception is that that's normal," Biel said. "By putting them in outlying areas, they can get the help they need, as long as they can get to the church, get to the grocery store, they can get to the hospital."

McCann said the idea isn't the solution to Spokane's homeless problem.

"These buildings have to be located near services," McCann said. "These are folks that need lots of help, lots of services, so you can't put one of these in Cheney. You can't put one of these up in Airway Heights. These have to be somewhere in the downtown area."

McCann doesn't deny the issues between those Catholic Charities serves and their neighbors. He mentioned 85 percent of Spokane's homeless struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues.

"We've been trying to work with our neighbors in lots of different ways to mitigate the impact on their property," McCann said. "However, with this population, you're not going to be 100 percent successful 100 percent of the time."

At Tuesday's press conference, McCann brought up a letter he said was circulating around Spokane. It claims McCann (referenced as Rob McKenna in the letter) plans to create a "Spokane slum empire in the downtown area" and states "put out a sugar cube and all the ants will come." Catholic Charities said a volunteer turned in the letter.

Biel told KXLY4 she wrote a similar letter, but only sent it to city officials and did not pass it out. She said she broke down claims of harassment and assault against the homeless, but denies writing "put out a sugar cube and all the ants will come" at the end of the letter. 

"Our hope is that the city will work with us in creating a healthy, safe atmosphere -- not just for us, but for the homeless people," Biel said.

McCann told KXLY4 the city approved plans for two new homeless housing units -- one near Donna Hanson Haven on West Second and the other on South Division and East First. The homes will hold 51 units each. Construction on both will begin in the fall and will last about ten months.


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