The Spokane Valley City Council is now facing what many other communities are also trying to deal with: the best way to handle the homeless.
The city has received numerous complaints of camping in public spaces and occupied recreational vehicles parked indefinitely on streets in front of homes.
The problem, however, is that much of that is out of the city’s control. And a potential solution – or an additional problem – could literally appear across the street.
The city of Spokane has recently begun moving forward on a purchasing agreement for a new homeless shelter – the site of the former Grocery Outlet -- on the southwest corner of Sprague Avenue and Havana Street. Spokane Valley’s city limits begin east of Havana.
Spokane is attempting to partner with Spokane County – and, by extension, the cities of Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake – in helping fund the estimated $1.8 million purchase price and ongoing maintenance and services provided at the facility.
But Spokane Valley city staffers and council members indicated at Tuesday’s council meeting they wish to make it clear that such a shelter – which could house between 75 and 150 residents – provides a “hand up” rather than a “hand out.”
“We don’t believe we should be spending money to exacerbate the problem,” said Morgan Koudelka, senior administrative analyst. “We want them to transition out of homelessness.”
There are also other concerns. Would the city and other jurisdictions be guaranteed bed space for local homeless when necessary? And how many?
Also, a recent Ninth Circuit Court ruling has determined that adequate shelters for the homeless must be provided, otherwise municipalities cannot enforce no-public camping laws in places like public parks or right-of-ways because it’s basically cruel.
“By enforcing those laws, you are criminalizing someone for being homeless,” said Erik Lamb, deputy city attorney. “People need to be able to sleep.”
City officials are planning to draft a letter to Spokane County commissioners about their concerns.
Spokane officials have planned a public meeting on the issue for July 30, but the time and place have yet to be finalized.