City, nonprofit to decentralize shelters

Friday, July 20, 2018

The City of Spokane has increased its outreach services as it is moving toward a long-term plan to decentralize emergency shelter services provided in partnership with Catholic Charities that includes reducing capacity at its downtown facility. That plan also includes alleviating the current “over-capacity” situation at the House of Charity.

The House of Charity, which was built to sleep 109 men only each night has been sleeping over 300 men, women, couples and their service animals for the past year, with help from the City.  Although the House of Charity services have noticeably alleviated homelessness in the downtown core, it has placed a great stress on both the House of Charity staff, the facility itself, and the surrounding neighborhood.

“The City of Spokane and Catholic Charities have agreed to reduce the shelter capacity at the House of Charity, in order to continue the development of an emergency shelter system that provides for health, safety, and dignity of shelter patrons and staff, mitigates for the secondary impacts of homelessness, and facilitates movement to permanent housing for the people accessing shelter services,” Spokane Mayor David Condon said.

The city is doubling the number of outreach services workers after the City Council approved an increase in the budget earlier this month. That investment increases the number of outreach workers who connect people to supportive service to four and will help offset the discontinuation of overnight accommodations for men on the first floor of the House of Charity and closure of the shelter in the afternoons for cleaning.  House of Charity will continue to provide overnight shelter and medical respite care for men and women on the second floor of the shelter, and will continue to provide overnight shelter for women on the first floor.

The House of Charity has been an essential part of the Spokane system of care for decades, serving some of the most vulnerable members of the community. 

“The positive impact of 24/7 sheltering on the community has been an important step forward.  However the extremely high numbers of men and women that have been utilizing the House of Charity this past year has given us important experience and data to discern the best path moving forward.  We know that this concentration of this high number of vulnerable people in one place, at the House of Charity, has been possible but has raised health and safety concerns for patrons, staff and volunteers and we need to solve those as a community going forward to get to the next step” Rob McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, said.

Changes at the House of Charity will be effective Sept. 1. Concurrent with the changes in shelter capacity at House of Charity, the City and community stakeholders have begun the process of developing a new shelter project that will be up and running by July 1, 2019.  The City will work with the regional Continuum of Care Board to develop criteria for siting a new shelter project, outside of the downtown core, likely not near the House of Charity.

“For the last 20 months the staff at the House of Charity has taken on an incredibly difficult task, providing shelter, food and care for more than 400 people every day under extremely difficult circumstances,” City Council President Ben Stuckart said.

Changes in shelter services move the City toward national best practices, and are responsive to local data, which show that smaller-scale, targeted-capacity shelters can focus more on individualized services like assessment, work resources, healthcare and case management.  The City is not reducing its investment in emergency shelter, but is re-directing emergency shelter funding to add an additional resource for the community.  These changes mean that the community will likely see some increased visibility of people experiencing homeless while the new shelter project is developed. The House of Charity will remain open, as it has been for over 60 years, adding a large fenced, and covered outdoor space over its current parking lot for expanded use.  Additionally, Catholic Charities will continue to build permanent supportive housing for homeless, with three new projects being built and opened in the next 12 months.

The City will support activation of a warming center, to provide emergency indoor sheltering during extreme weather over the upcoming winter season.