‘Sucking the oxygen out of the room’: City Council approves shelter lease as community pleads for change

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane City Council approved the lease for a new low barrier shelter on Monday night, voting 6 to 1 in favor of a shelter some community members say can’t come soon enough.

“Things are not getting any better,” said one citizen during public testimony at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

After months of delays, the city is taking a step ahead to help people sleep somewhere safe. A new low barrier shelter will open at 4320 E. Trent Avenue in just over a month. During these negotiations, the homeless camp located near Fred Meyer in the East Central neighborhood has grown tremendously. There was snow on the ground when it first started to reports today of over 500 people sleeping outside.

“I’m hoping and praying we see a great improvement because it’s a terrible mess down on the area around Freddie Meyer, and they’re not safe,” said another concerned citizen who testified in support of opening the new shelter on Trent Avenue.

The city council voted 6 to 1 in favor for change.

“I think some of the actions that we’ve taken or even the inactions that we’ve made have made some issues quite worse and some neighborhoods around our community, and we have to make up for that. We absolutely have to move forward on this,” said Michael Cathcart, City Council member for District 1.

Karen Stratton was the sole vote against the new shelter.

“I don’t even know how many people are going to go to that shelter, and if I did know that, then if they don’t go there, I don’t know where they will go, so this has really been frustrating,” Stratton who represents District 3 exclaimed.

Even if they voted in support of the shelter, not every council member thinks this will solve homelessness.

“It just can’t be about the shelter,” said Betsy Wilkerson who represents District 2. “Can we be working on pallet homes at the same time? Can we be doing the RV park? Can there be scattered sites?”

These are questions she hopes the mayor considers as the community begs for change. That’s why one man pleaded for council to approve the lease during public testimony. He said he works at the Tapio Center and doesn’t want to see the homeless camp in his backyard keep growing.

“The impact of this issue in our community is frankly sucking all of the oxygen out of the room,” he said.

Renovations are already underway at the new shelter which the city wants to open in early August.

Those who testified against the shelter are worried about wrap around services and the location not in a walkable part of town. The City Administrator says the Guardians Foundation will be the operators of the new shelter. The Salvation Army will do case work for people living there. Those contracts are still being negotiated as this shelter inches closer to opening.

READ: Spokane City Council approves homeless shelter lease