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Spokane approves $7.6M in grants despite requiring local match amid deficit

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(The Center Square) – The City of Spokane just committed another $7.6 million to dealing with its homelessness crisis, approving a swath of grants yesterday intended to fulfill service provider contracts starting next month.

While approving the grants is routine, it’s tacked onto a concerted effort to address the local homeless population. Earlier this month, Mayor Lisa Brown declared a state of emergency over the city’s opioid crisis, allowing her to streamline funding toward the initiative which includes homelessness.

Brown’s initial investments used opioid settlement funds that Spokane received as part of litigation against prescription manufacturers. However, given her declaration, she can also utilize other sources despite a roughly $50 million structural deficit.

The grants approved during Monday’s city council meeting consist of state and federal funds, with some requiring a local match. The council awarded approximately $7.65 million for service provider contracts from July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2027.

“I feel bad because I think there are some really important projects, even with the general fund dollars, but could easily have fit under the other [grant] options,” said Councilmember Michael Cathcart, who voted against the funding. “In fact, I drafted an amendment to do just that.”

However, the council ultimately opted for an amendment from Councilmember Lili Navarrete and Brown’s administration. Cathcart’s failed amendment, which cuts the Salvation Army’s award in half and excludes Catholic Charities, only proposed awarding $5.8 million.

The approved funding will extend across 26 projects with 10 providers. The smallest allocation was $40,000, while the largest breached $3.5 million. Out of the $7.65 million total, $1.7 million came from Spokane’s general fund, where most of the city’s deficit originates.

The funding will go toward anything from emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing, support services, diversions and street outreach, among other projects.

“If we’re going to spend $1.7 million in the middle of a budget crisis,” Cathcart said, “I kind of think we should do it in a smart way, and I just don’t think this is it.”

Another amendment from Navarrete proposed cutting the Salvation Army’s award and a passing resolution to formally disapprove the application. However, it was disregarded before she could comment.

While the award goes toward a street outreach project, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities operate some of Spokane’s largest homeless shelters. City officials have paid the Salvation Army roughly $10 million to operate the Trent Shelter, which is currently in the process of decommissioning. Although estimates note it could take $8 million to close it completely.

Catholic Charities operates Spokane’s House of Charity shelter, which the council recently proposed to move less than a mile down the street to an old hotel, raising concerns amongst the community.

Several council members expressed concerns over how the Request for Proposal process went out, but they did not go into detail beyond mentioning the exclusion of some stakeholders. Mike Piccolo, the city’s attorney, said the Brown administration is looking into it further.

“It wasn’t the providers’ fault,” said Council President Betsy Wilkerson. “This was our own internal process, and so we’re actually penalizing the very people that are out there helping our most vulnerable.”

Later in the meeting, the Council formally accepted about $9.1 million from the state Department of Commerce’s Emergency Housing Funds. That money is intended to maintain Spokane’s level of emergency housing services, which Brown could also utilize as part of her declaration.

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