Tuesday, September 18, 2012

CITY HALL EYEBALL: No takers for homeless contract

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 4:47 PM

The city's looking for a nonprofit to act as an overnight warming center for single men during the year's coldest months, but no one seems interested.

The Human Services Department announced at the end of August that it was looking, but as of the deadline Monday, no group had applied.

Leaders from the nonprofit that had been filling that need, the House of Charity, say it could be a money issue.

Spokane's warming center program pays select non-profits to open overnight when the temperature drops to 15 degrees, with each location serving a specific population (men, women, families, teens). While some of the locations always act as overnight shelters, they're only reimbursed for the nights the city activates them as warming shelters.

Since the program started in 2006, the House of Charity has been the center designated for single men. But this year the shelter's leaders say they can't afford to stay a part of the program.

Each center is reimbursed a certain amount per night based on how many people stay there ($200 a night for up to 10 people, $250 for 11 to 20 and so on), but there's a cap on the total the city will shell out. That hasn't been a big problem for three of the locations — the Hope House serves single women, Crosswalk serves youth and the Salvation Army serves couples and families — which house a small enough number of people that they don't usually go over the city's limit.

But on the coldest nights the House of Charity serves as many as 70 men and has sometimes spent more than the city was reimbursing them, says Gene DiRe, the associate director of programs at Catholic Charities, which runs the House of Charity.

"We've continued to subsidize it and we're just not in the position to do that anymore," DiRe says. "We have to make cuts some place."

DiRe says the House of Charity spent between $7,000 and $8,000 on the program during the 2010-2011 winter. According to its contract with the city, the nonprofit would only be reimbursed up to a total $4,900 per year.

Meanwhile, the city recently changed its policy for activating the warming centers. Previously, a shelter had to have been completely full one night to be activated as a warming center the next night. Now, that threshold will be 90 percent of capacity.

With more nights of activation and the same amount of reimbursement, it's unclear what nonprofit will be able to fill the gap left by the House of Charity.

"We need to figure out a way to get this need met," says Sheila Morley, a city program coordinator who oversees the warming center programs, "so we'll just keep working on it."

The new deadline is Friday.

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About The Author

Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...