The Coldest Night: Messaging unclear as Spokane's unsheltered try to stay warm

click to enlarge The Coldest Night: Messaging unclear as Spokane's unsheltered try to stay warm
Nate Sanford photo
The Trent shelter is shown before wooden beds were swapped out for metal beds Wednesday, Dec. 21. City staff said the swapping in of new equipment may have affected the shelter's capacity as people tried to get in from the cold temperatures. The high Wednesday only hit 12 degrees, with overnight lows expected to dip to -10.

Despite repeated messages from the city of Spokane that the Trent Resource and Assistance Center would be able to take in anyone who needs shelter during sub-zero temperatures this week, some who tried to secure space at the shelter Wednesday were told they wouldn't be able to stay.

In multiple afternoon phone calls on Dec. 21, a worker at the Trent shelter said they were already at capacity and could only allow people to come in for a while to warm up. But then they'd have to leave. They said they hadn't been told how much time people should be given to warm up.

But the mayor's spokesman, Brian Coddington, insisted the shelter should be able to take in anyone who needs to stay warm.

"They will have space tonight for people who come in," Coddington says.

Temperatures hovered in the single digits just after the 4 pm sunset, with the low for tonight expected to drop to - 10 degrees and windchills that could make it feel as low as -22 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. If temperatures drop to -25 degrees with the windchill, frostbite can occur in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.

Coddington says volunteers were busy swapping out wooden beds for new metal beds at the shelter Wednesday, which may have temporarily led to confusion among staff regarding capacity.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs says he spent three hours at the shelter today because he was hearing "disturbing reports" about people being turned away this morning. He says staff told him the chaos was the result of the beds being moved in.

Beggs says most of the beds had been moved in by the time he left this afternoon, and that he was under the impression that people were being admitted.

"There's way more space now and things are just calmer," he says.

But when the Inlander called the Trent shelter immediately after talking to Beggs, the person who answered the phone said they were at capacity. People can still come in to warm up, "but no longer than that."

Coddington says that's not accurate, and the result of a miscommunication.

"There's really no max capacity," Coddington says, adding that the shelter will have sleeping space for about 350 people tonight, but will still be able to accommodate anyone who wants to get out of the cold.

Coddington says about two thirds of the beds were swapped out with metal ones today, and that they expect to finish the rest tomorrow.

Other warming centers that have operated in the past were not expected to be open.  (We'll update this post if other options become available.)

Update: Beggs says that Salvation Army Major Ken Perine told him they located the Trent staff person who was telling people they were already full for the night to make sure they know to tell people there is still more room available. 

Compassionate Addiction Treatment has also announced they will stay open 24/7 through Friday at 6 pm to offer warming services. Read more on their availability below:

Heartbreaker's Bash @ First Avenue Coffee

Fri., Feb. 23, 8-11 p.m.
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About The Authors

Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is a staff writer for the Inlander covering Spokane City Hall and a variety of other news. He joined the paper in 2022 after graduating from Western Washington University. You can reach him at [email protected]

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...