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Spokane Mayor Woodward addresses closure of warming center

Shortly before Mayor Woodward's press conference on Wednesday, Spokane City Council members sent a letter to her expressing their concerns about the closure.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward held a press conference on Wednesday morning to discuss the city's temporary warming shelter, which closed on Jan. 9, and the city's future plans for temporary shelters.

The warming shelter, which was held at the Spokane Convention Center, opened on Dec. 26, 2021, just before a snowstorm swept through the Inland Northwest. The shelter was scheduled to close on Jan. 2 but stayed open until Jan. 9.

The shelter served anywhere from 103 to 343 people every night while it was open.

Shortly before Mayor Woodward's press conference on Wednesday, Spokane City Council members sent a letter to her expressing their concerns about the shelter's closure, as well as their concern that another shelter has not been identified "as we continue to experience life-threatening winter conditions and many of our community members remain on the streets."

The letter also claims the warming center was closed in violation of Spokane Municipal Code 18.05.020 (A)(1), a council-passed ordinance that requires warming shelters to be open when the National Weather Service (NWS) predicts the temperatures will reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

Woodward said she did not have a chance to read the letter in its entirety, but said the city did not have a choice in closing the shelter.

"We're actively looking for another temporary shelter," Woodward said. "We had to close that, we had no choice. So that work continues."

The Spokane Public Facilities District, which runs the convention center, needed time to make repairs before upcoming events. According to Woodward, an estimated $90,000 in damage was done to bathrooms, outlets, chairs, and carpet in the convention center.

Woodward said the city needs to ensure private security is available to prevent people from damaging facilities at future warming centers. The city is also looking for a different location for a temporary shelter and has a list of restrictions for that location, such as not being near a school, daycare, commercial or retail center.

"The biggest one is pushback from neighborhoods. A lot of people know that we are a compassionate community, and people want to help with this issue," Woodward explained. "But we've received pushback from almost every single neighborhood that we wanted to locate shelter in."

Woodward said the city can be flexible both in the future location of the temporary shelter and the reopening of the warming center in Spokane sees another severe weather event. While she didn't want to build more low-barrier shelters when she took office, Woodward said her views have changed.

"I didn't think we should continue to build more low barrier shelters," she said. "But that comes at a huge, high, high cost to our taxpayers. But I have reassessed that philosophy, and see that we do need more low barrier space."

The City Council will vote on whether to officially send that letter to the mayor during a special meeting set for Thursday. Woodward does have a new low-barrier shelter included in her 20-22 budget. 

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