Shelter ordinance changes aim to extend opportunities

SPOKANE, Wash. — An escape from the heat, the cold or even poor air quality. The City of Spokane wants to make sure people have a place to go when extreme weather hits.

Already this summer, more than a dozen people have died from this record heat, and the city is working right now to change how often cooling shelters are open.

Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Nadine Woodward hosted a discussion on the proposed ordinance revisions. Many people in the community came to express their concern about the way homelessness is treated in Spokane.

During the extreme temperatures seen at the end up of June and into July, the city opened up their cooling shelters at the Looff Carrousel and they saw a total of 731 people use facility. Mayor Woodward said it was used by people visiting the park, elderly people, tourists and some homeless people.

“We learned that you have to be flexible, that you need to create space that is welcoming to individuals who are housed or unhoused,” Woodward said.

The proposed ordinance changes would make it easier for the city to activate shelters during extreme weather.

For warming centers, they would be required to provide sufficient space to meet the sheltering needs of current homeless people in Spokane, and operate at a minimum during the hours that temperatures are lower than 32 degrees.

For cooling centers, they would activate after two consecutives days at 95 degrees, and require enough space not just for those that are currently unsheltered, but those who are seeking cooling shelters who do not have air conditioning.

Mayor Woodward said the language in the proposed changes could cost the city up to $4 million a year, with homeless shelters specifically.

“Instead adding more and more beds, where people aren’t being moved out of homelessness or aren’t bettering their lives, we’re trying to move people through a system that we have already and provide more capacity that way,” Woodward said.

But many in attendance were concerned about what it might do for the homeless in the area.

“I’m concerned about this because low barrier and no barrier is not defined here, and we don’t believe that asking someone to help move forward in their life, to exit homelessness is that much of a barrier,” said Major Ken Perine of the Salvation Army.

“We want to have an argument about homelessness and the larger response, but this is about that one ordinance and I think we have the money. People died on the streets because of the heat, it’s okay to open those up in those times,” said former City Council President Ben Stuckart.

The city council is expected to take emergency action on the ordinance on Monday.

PAST COVERAGE: Spokane mayor to host discussion on proposed revisions to warming, cooling and air ordinance 

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