In years past, Spokane scrambled to ramp up homeless shelter capacity as cold weather crept into Spokane. But this year, Mayor Nadine Woodward wants to implement a new strategy while federal aid has increased during the pandemic.
It’s a “fundamental shift,” Woodward told reporters at one of two news conferences she’s held this month on homelessness.
The city will add one new young adult shelter and convert one winter shelter into a year-round day center, with beds to sleep during the winter. But the city is also losing 100 publicly funded beds at the same time.
Woodward has spared little expense in mitigating the visible consequences of homelessness to downtown visitors and businesses, promising to double the number of employees dedicated to cleaning up graffiti and waste downtown. Crews will focus particularly on “hot spots,” like under the Browne Street viaduct, conducting regular cleanings.
The approach has drawn scrutiny from some Spokane City Council members because Woodward’s plan does not increase the amount of shelter beds, and is built on an incomplete homelessness census.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs lauded almost every aspect of the city’s plan, noting much of it has received strong backing from the council. It falls short, he believes, in its scope.
“They’re all good things, I just don’t think they’re nearly enough, and I think most people in the community don’t think they’re nearly enough,” Beggs said.
Woodward’s shelter plan is built on the premise that the city doesn’t need more homeless shelter beds — it just needs to more efficiently use what it already has.
That assertion is based on a federally mandated count of homeless people that only included people staying in shelter in 2021. According to the preliminary data from Spokane, 992 people were counted in city shelters in 2021, nearly identical to 2020.
Council members argue that the number is largely a reflection of how many beds the city has available, not how many people are homeless on a given night.
The 2020 Point-in-Time Count identified 541 people unsheltered in Spokane.
“That is really stressing not just those people, but the community, so we need a plan for those people, and I think that’s the big gap,” Beggs said.