Daniel Walters photo
Jewels Helping Hands co-founder Julie Garcia (right) addresses a woman as formerly homeless activist Elizabeth Osborn looks on.
At around 5:30 pm on Thursday,
there were two camps of people set up in Coeur d'Alene Park in Browne's Addition. The first, milling about the blue tents speckled throughout the eastern half of the park, included the homeless patrons who'd been staying at the Cannon Street warming shelter. They'd been asked to leave
after the city opted not to continue contracting with Jewels Helping Hands, the controversial homeless services provider that ran the shelter.
Then, in the western half of the park, over a dozen Spokane police officers huddled up near their vehicles, planning how to handle the potential conflict.
"We obviously have a Camp Hope 2.0-type situation here," formerly homeless activist Elizabeth Osborn argued with a police officer, referencing the multi-week tent city that arose outside City Hall in December 2018. "Which centers on the First Amendment right to gather and protest."
Eventually, the police officers form a horizontal line and slowly advance upon the campers, offering to give them a ride to the downtown library shelter, but requiring that camp disband.
"If you refuse to comply, you may be arrested," the police say over the loudspeaker. "We do not want to use force against anybody."
There's some yelling and profanity from a few campers, but the tensions dissipate within minutes.
"The police have agreed they can go back to Cannon, and those who cannot fit inside can be in the parking lots in their tents until we get this figured out," Osborn says. "'It's a win for us, I say."
The next day, a plan was hashed out to help the homeless patrons.
"The mayor met with [Jewels Helping Hands] co-founder Julie Garcia this morning. They discussed the miscommunication that occurred. The mayor apologized for it. They were able to work past that," city spokesman Brian Coddington said yesterday. "They're working collaboratively now to make sure that everybody has a safe place to stay."
The Guardians Foundation — an organization that has repeatedly clashed with Jewels Helping Hands' Julie Garcia — will be taking over operations at the Cannon shelter tonight.
Today, Guardians Foundation founder Mike Shaw says, they'll have 45 shelter beds ready to go.
The chaos marks a sharp departure from the communication and collaboration
that the Woodward administration was praised for earlier this year.
"I’ve been informed of changes multiple times this week, without explanation,” Council President Breean Beggs says. “I spent most of the week confused and getting very contradictory information.”
It was only this week, he says, that he learned that the Woodward administration had been planning on cutting off funding to all warming centers across the city. Officials expected that those who wanted a place to stay during the summer would be able to find a place in the limited existing private shelter spaces.
“'If there is demand, are you going to provide beds?'" Beggs recalls asking the administration. "They said 'no.'"
Beggs says the Woodward administration still wants to create a regionally funded “continuous-stay” shelter where homeless people would have a guaranteed slot up to 90 days, giving them enough of a runway to find a way to climb out of homelessness.
But since that doesn't exist yet, the plan was to end the warming center program until winter.
COVID-19, in a strange way, has come to the rescue. The infusion of COVID funding might not only help keep the Cannon and downtown library warming centers alive, it just might give the region enough money to bring continuous-stay shelters online.
"Horrible as it, it gives us an opportunity to get the continuous-stay and the warming centers right," Beggs says.
On Monday, Beggs wants to introduce a council resolution to update the city's policy to prevent the city from shutting down warming centers unless they have a place for the people to go.
"I've felt whiplash this week," Beggs says.