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Spokane to approve up to $7.6 million in funding for homelessness services

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(The Center Square) – Spokane officials are expected to approve up to $7.6 million in grants Monday night, deploying another round of funding toward the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis.

The decision follows months of back and forth between local homeless providers and Spokane’s Community, Housing, and Human Services Department, or CHHS.

Spokane issued a Request for Proposals last fall that solicited 36 applications but raised concerns over potential consequences. Advocates and providers noted that the initial recommendations could have unintended impacts on the local homeless services network, leading the RFP Committee to revisit the applications with additional insight.

Since then, the CHHS Board issued a new list of recommendations, with the proposed awards ranging from $40,000 to $3.5 million. The funding will go toward propping up emergency shelters around the city and providing other services such as diversion and street outreach.

The goal is to award the funding so that contracts can start by July 1; however, that can only happen if the appropriations are approved by the city council Monday night. Meanwhile, four amendments remain on the table, which could mean the difference between $3 million in funding.

Councilmember Michael Cathcart’s proposal is the most conservative, awarding only $5.8 million instead of the total amount. His amendment also withholds funding to Catholic Charities, which runs a local shelter called House of Charity.

Catholic Charities has been the center of controversy a few times over the years; however, a recent city council proposal to move its shelter less than a mile down the road has everyone talking about the provider again.

On the other end of the spectrum, Councilmember Lili Navarrete raised three amendments with only slight differences between each. Her proposals spend the full amount but award funding to Catholic Charities and add in Goodwill at $3.7 million, for an approximate total of $7.65 million.

However, one of Navarrete’s amendments also includes a separate resolution formally disapproving a $120,000 award to the Salvation Army. The organization operates Spokane’s Trent Shelter, which is the largest in the city.

“City Council does not approve of multi-year awards for many of the grants,” the resolution states, “especially to the extent a class of grants depends on general fund allocations that may need to be revisited in light of the continuing financial distress.”

Spokane is decommissioning its Trent Shelter to move toward Mayor Lisa Brown’s new scattered site model; however, the effort could cost up to $8 million, while the city has already paid the organization roughly $10 million to operate the shelter.

Earlier this month, Brown declared a state of emergency over Spokane’s opioid crisis and immediately entered contracts with several providers. The move allowed her to reopen shelters and streamline funding without going through the RFP process.

The initial investments were made using opioid settlement funds that the city was awarded for participating in ongoing litigation. However, Brown can also spend other funds nearly unilaterally despite the city’s $50 million deficit.

While much of that deficit lies in the city’s general fund, which encompasses roughly 21% of Spokane’s $1.2 billion budget, Brown can still redirect funds to and from other areas.

“Pursuant to [Spokane Municipal Code] 7.06.180, the Mayor or her [delegate] may make emergency procurements consistent with the provisions of Chapter 7.06, … so long as such contracts or procurements do not commit general fund dollars or funds received by the City under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” according to the resolution ratifying Brown’s declaration.

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