Spokane set to allocate funding of up to $7.6 million for homelessness services

Spokane’s local authorities are set to sanction grants worth up to $7.6 million on Monday evening, as part of their continuing efforts to address the homelessness crisis in the city. This funding injection is expected to make a significant difference in the ongoing battle against homelessness.

After months of deliberation between Spokane’s Community, Housing, and Human Services Department (CHHS) and local homeless providers, a decision has been made.

Last fall, Spokane released a Request for Proposals (RFP) which garnered 36 applications. However, there were concerns raised over the possible consequences of the initial recommendations. Advocates and providers expressed that the recommendations could lead to unintended consequences for the local homeless services network. As a result, the RFP Committee revisited the applications and gained additional insight before making any decisions.

Following their initial recommendations, the CHHS Board has recently released a new list of proposed awards, with amounts ranging from $40,000 to $3.5 million. These funds will be allocated to support emergency shelters across the city and provide additional services such as diversion and street outreach.

The aim is to grant the funding in such a way that contracts can commence by July 1. However, for that to happen, the city council must approve the appropriations on Monday night. At present, there are still four amendments pending, and these could potentially result in a $3 million difference in the funding.

In comparison to other proposals, Councilmember Michael Cathcart’s plan is more conservative, granting a total of only $5.8 million. Additionally, his amendment entails withholding funds from Catholic Charities, the organization in charge of operating the House of Charity, a local shelter.

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The services offered by Catholic Charities have been subject to controversy on a few occasions in the past. However, the latest proposal by the city council to relocate its shelter, which is less than a mile away, has sparked renewed discussion about the provider.

Councilmember Lili Navarrete proposed three amendments that had minor differences among them. Her suggestions utilize the entire amount of funding and allocate it to Catholic Charities, while also including Goodwill with a budget of $3.7 million, bringing the total to approximately $7.65 million.

Navarrete proposed an amendment that involves a resolution disapproving a $120,000 award given to the Salvation Army, which operates the Trent Shelter in Spokane, the largest shelter in the city.

According to the resolution, the City Council does not support the idea of granting funds for multiple years, particularly when it comes to grants that rely on general fund allocations that may need to be reevaluated due to ongoing financial difficulties.

Spokane intends to transition from its Trent Shelter to Mayor Lisa Brown’s scattered site model, but the move comes with a hefty price tag. The city has already paid the organization around $10 million to operate the shelter, and the decommissioning process could cost as much as $8 million.

In response to Spokane’s opioid crisis, Brown took swift action and declared a state of emergency earlier this month. She entered into contracts with multiple providers, which enabled her to reopen shelters and streamline funding without the need to go through the RFP process.

Using funds awarded to the city for participating in ongoing litigation regarding opioids, Brown made the initial investments. It’s worth noting that Brown has the ability to spend other funds almost unilaterally, despite the city facing a $50 million deficit.

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Although a significant portion of the deficit is attributed to Spokane’s general fund, which makes up approximately 21% of the city’s $1.2 billion budget, Brown still has the authority to transfer funds between different areas.

According to the resolution ratifying Brown’s declaration, emergency procurements may be made by the Mayor or her delegate in compliance with Chapter 7.06 of the Spokane Municipal Code, as long as such contracts or procurements do not utilize general fund dollars or funds obtained by the City through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This is in accordance with the provisions of 7.06.180.

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