Spokane homeless advocates worried history will repeat itself as city searches for shelter

Men and women living on the streets of Spokane aren’t the only ones in limbo this week. Homeless advocates are ready to serve, but they can’t get to work until the city finds shelters to take them in.

Three of the four buildings which served as warming centers last year will not reopen this winter and the only option on the table for a 24/7 shelter fell through this week. Mayor David Condon promises he has a plan, but some in Spokane worry history will repeat itself and hundreds will be left out in the cold yet again.

“We’re back in the same boat we were in last year, which means that we need to find capacity for approximately, in my opinion, about 400 individuals,” said Mike Shaw, who serves as executive director of the Guardians Foundation, which staffed two centers last year. “It truly is a crisis.”

Shaw spent last winter at the Cannon Center, where he watched as dozens stood outside in below-freezing temperatures during the day, waiting for the warming shelter’s doors to open. The city is in negotiations to reopen the Cannon Center this year.

“Will it help the homeless population get through the winter? Yes,” Shaw said. “Will it help the community reduce homelessness? No.”

Shaw says there are plenty of people willing to volunteer their time to help the homeless — but it’s a matter of finding landlords willing to offer up their properties for shelter.

“This year it’ll be a harder pitch to their sub-lessors in those buildings because they believe it’s no longer an emergency situation because of the time that the city has been afforded to create other spaces,” Shaw said. “Unfortunately, those other spaces didn’t materialize — so quite frankly, we’re kinda right back where we were.”

Shaw also believes the stall in plans at City Hall has to do with it being an election year.

“No one wants to make a big decision on a big fix in the middle of a political year,” Shaw said. “No one wants to inherit a possible poor decision and the new leaders that will be elected in November won’t have a voice in what might transpire in the next 60 days.”

Mayor Condon said this week he’s working to partner with two new warming centers to hold up to 150 people and also expects to finalize a deal for a 60-person 24/7 shelter in the coming days.

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