Backlash against plans to turn a Sunset Highway hotel into emergency housing has some Spokane City Council members interested in reopening talks about how to spend state funding on efforts to move people out of a tent city east of Spokane.
The city submitted a series of proposals last month to the state Department of Commerce, which has offered approximately $24.3 million through the state’s rights-of-way initiative to support solutions for relocating hundreds of people to the encampment on state land, also known as Camp Hope.
To date, the Department of Commerce has only committed to funding two components of the spending proposal. One is Catholic Charities Eastern Washington’s plan, dubbed the Catalyst Project, to purchase the Quality Inn on Sunset Highway to house 100-120 adults not as a walk-in shelter, but on the recommendation of local community partners.
Over the past few weeks, however, Spokane City Council has responded to numerous concerns from residents of the West Hills neighborhood who, blindsided by the Quality Inn project, have expressed concerns about it and other proposed initiatives for the housing for the homeless in this region.
In light of those concerns, Councilman Michael Cathcart drafted a letter asking the Department of Commerce to “reopen” the discussion about Spokane’s right-of-way funding “to ensure that all voices are heard,” according to the letter.
The project was presented Monday by Cathcart for discussion at the public safety and community health council meeting.
Asked what those discussions would look like, Cathcart said Tuesday he plans to start two different meetings, preferably in public: one with the city council, mayor, commerce department, local vendors and neighborhood representatives; and another with Council, Mayor, Commerce and representatives of surrounding jurisdictions on a regional approach.
“I’m not necessarily asking for anything to stop, to stop. I don’t think there’s any language in the letter that says that,” Cathcart said, “but, really, let’s just have a conversation.”
The Department of Commerce released a response to Cathcart’s letter, saying community members should continue to raise concerns about the city’s rights-of-way plan with city and county officials.
“Commerce will continue to be at the table with local leaders on the city’s proposed plan. Spokane County, unfortunately, has not engaged with us,” officials said in the statement. “It should be remembered that this is a statewide public safety initiative. The process of cleaning up and successfully relocating people to better and safer housing options is also underway in other counties.
The letter is not representative of the entire city council, nor would it go through a traditional pass/fail process, Cathcart said. Council members would instead have the opportunity to sign the letter.
Cathcart said he hopes the reopened discussion on right-of-way funding will include council members, representatives from all potentially affected neighborhoods and service providers. He also envisions these talks as a “regional conversation,” saying Camp Hope issues aren’t just about the city. Cathcart is the Republican nominee in the Spokane County District 2 Commissioners race in Novemember.
“Most importantly, I think we’ve heard a lot of concerns from people who don’t feel like they’re being heard,” he said. “I’m not saying the results would be guaranteed to change, but I think they deserve a voice and I think it makes sense that we re-engage and have this conversation on a large scale.”
Along with Cathcart, only Councilman Jonathan Bingle offered verbal support for the letter on Monday.
Others expressed reservations.
“It’s a bit dishonest to ask for help, but to say, ‘No, we don’t want that kind of help; we want it to be done this way,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said. “Again, this puts the council in the middle of something very controversial.”
The Department of Commerce initially announced Spokane’s funding eligibility in June, setting a 10-day deadline for funding applications before later extending it to 30 days. Spokane County’s bid was prepared as a coordinated effort by the city, county, Spokane Housing Authority and other public and private partners.
“Things had to move quickly, which is frustrating that 30 days was the timeframe given to us when probably more time should have been given to this discussion,” Bingle said.
Councilor Betsy Wilkerson said she doubted anything would change with another conversation.
“I don’t think there would be any different results than what there is now because that train really left the station and there’s no turning back,” Wilkerson said. . “The biggest challenge we have as a city, council and administration is making sure these people get the right information, because the information out there is inflammatory.”
Councilwoman Karen Stratton said the problem is compounded by Catholic Charities Eastern Washington’s plans for “House of Charity 2.0” to move the current House of Charity to a larger campus outside of downtown Spokane. .
House of Charity 2.0 was not included in the ROW funding request. Likewise, the project is distinct from the plans of the Quality Inn.
About an hour after Monday’s board committee meeting, Catholic Charities issued a press release stating that the organization is expanding the search for the appropriate site from 3 to 5 acres for the House of Charity 2.0 campus.
Around the time the project was announced during Mayor Nadine Woodward’s State of the City address in April, Catholic Charities CEO and President Rob McCann said the organization had three possible locations in head.
Catholic Charities, which has reportedly been evaluating possible locations outside of downtown for nearly a year, decided to widen the search area to explore locations that “would be better suited to meet the individualized needs of people in our community. facing homelessness,” the organization said. in a report.
Representatives said Catholic Charities is not considering any organization-owned sites for House of Charity 2.0 at this time.
“The ideal site for House of Charity 2.0 will be easily accessible by a short bus ride with frequent service, will have sufficient space to create a dignified and peaceful environment, and will not be located in a predominantly residential area,” says the press release. “Our development team is working diligently to find possible locations in our region. We continue to explore possible locations and will post once a suitable site is selected.