Spokane's contracts with warming centers expire at the end of March. But the city may seek to extend those contracts well into spring, so people living on the streets can have a place to stay even as temperatures rise. 

It's a short-term measure. But if there's any lesson to be learned from the events of this winter, it's that a long-term measure is needed.

"We need to do something different and we have plans to," Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs said.

That plan: open a second 24/7, year-round, full-service shelter like House of Charity.

For years, Spokane relied on the House of Charity to shelter the vast majority of its homeless citizens.

But last September, House of Charity had to reduce its capacity. That, combined with a burgeoning homeless population and fewer state and federal dollars, caused an immediate problem for the city. It suddenly had to provide hundreds of new spaces beds to keep people out of the frigid winter weather.

"So we had that three months of people just wandering around the downtown with their things, being unhealthy and causing irritation to other people downtown," Beggs said. 

The slow response resulted in the Camp Hope protests at City Hall and River Park Square.

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Eventually, several warming centers were opened. Beggs says those centers saved lives but were far from perfect.

"Even though people were surviving the freezing cold at night, they were just being turned out and sitting in front of their businesses with all their belongings and it just didn't work for anyone," he said.

The number one takeaway from this winter's program: shelter services and hours need to be expanded, Beggs said.

"There was still a lot of suffering," he said. "We could have done a much better job, I think, if we had really plunged in and said, 'We're going to do this 24/7, not for 12 hours a night."

That is exactly what Beggs says the city is working on for 2019. The goal is for another shelter like House of Charity to be operational by July of this year and to provide holistic services.

"They could store their things there, they could get a shower, do laundry, have computers there to work on job applications, social workers to get them into housing," Beggs said. 

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The idea is that the city can avoid the scramble to temporarily house the homeless during the winter months by creating a permanent shelter.

"And that's really my hope is that we can come together in a unified purpose and save peoples lives," Beggs said. "And if we start with that, we'll be able to save our city as well." 

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