SPOKANE, Wash. — Jewels Helping Hands has refused to leave the South Cannon Street warming center after the City of Spokane ordered the nonprofit to vacate on Friday afternoon.
Julie Garcia, who runs Jewels Helping Hands with her partner Jason Green, confirmed to KREM on Friday that the organization will not vacate the building. At the center, work appeared to still be underway at about 4:30 p.m. and KREM 2 reporter Amanda Roley saw what appeared to be volunteers dropping off a donation.
The City of Spokane said it received a "serious concern" about one of the leaders of Jewels Helping Hands, the nonprofit chosen to open Spokane's only warming center this year.
Jewels Helping Hands was asked to vacate the warming center on Friday while a review takes place, according to city spokesperson Marlene Feist.
Jewels Helping Hands called the allegations "completely false and baseless."
"This is yet another slanderous attempt to derail Jewels Helping Hands operating a warming center," the nonprofit said in a press release.
Feist told KREM 2 that the city is "extremely disappointed" by Jewels' response but "we aren't going to create a scene."
KREM 2 has not confirmed what specific allegations the city is investigating.
Supporters of the nonprofit staged a protest in response at city hall on Friday afternoon.
In a news release on Friday, Feist said the reason for the review was "an additional serious concern related to the background of one of the nonprofit's corporate officers has been raised to the City."
Feist said in an interview that the allegation is not against Jason Green, the nonprofit's treasurer who previously served prison time for embezzling from a Southwest Washington company in 2009 and 2010.
"It's a separate allegation about a separate individual," Feist said. "We're just looking into that. We want to be fair, we don't know if these things are true. We just want to be able to have the time to know what the situation is."
Feist said the city still hopes to open the warming center on Nov. 22. The city said the review comes in an effort to "ensure that vulnerable citizens and taxpayer dollars are protected."
"We're going to continue to make sure that building gets ready to be a warming center. We need that to be a warming center for our winter plan for those experiencing homelessness, and that is our most important priority," Feist said. "It is our vulnerable citizens that need that shelter space this winter, and they remain our priority."
Feist said the city is asking Jewels to take a "pause" during the investigation.
When asked if the Salvation Army, who was also considered to run the shelter, could take over if the city decides to part ways with Jewels Helping Hands, Feist said that is unknown at this point.
Feist also said a policy is in place to investigate these types of allegations.
"We've had issues about vendors in a variety of capacities at the city," Feist said. "We do have a process in place that will allow us to investigate it and we expect that investigation to go quickly."
The warming center, located on South Cannon Street, is expected to serve 60 to 80 adults at opening, and up to 120 adults in the future, according to Feist.
Jewels has already come under scrutiny this week after reports surfaced about Green's previous prison time for embezzlement.
The City of Spokane announced on Thursday that they will require Jewels Helping Hands to have an insurance policy protecting against theft at their homeless warming center in light of their Treasurer admitting to embezzlement at a previous job.
"After the City learned of concerning background information regarding a Jewels Helping Hands operations officer, the City has amended its contract with the nonprofit to require fidelity insurance," the city said in a press release. "Effectively, the change requires Jewels Helping Hands to provide an insurance policy in the event of employee theft."
The city said the center is on track to open on Nov. 22, before which the center needs proper permits, operating procedures and security plans in place.
The additional protection of the insurance and other clauses already in the contract will prevent taxpayers from falling prey to theft, according to the news release.
"We have reviewed the information and are confident these changes will provide the necessary protection of taxpayer funding as well as allow us to move forward with our priority of serving vulnerable citizens during cold weather,” Tim Sigler, Interim Director of Community, Housing and Human Services, said.
KREM reported on Tuesday that Jason Green, the treasurer of Jewels Helping Hands, pleaded guilty in 2015 to embezzlement charges and spent two-and-a-half years in prison, according to FBI records.
Green admitted to KREM that he embezzled the funds while he was working at U.S. Foods as the vice president of finance in 2009 and 2010.
"I admit, yes, I did receive a lot of kickback from those transactions," Green told KREM.
The City of Spokane signed a contract with Jewels Helping Hands this year, allowing the group to operate the city’s newest warming center.
Green offered to step down from his position after the recent revelations, but the group's founder, Julie Garcia, said that was unnecessary.
Amanda Roley and Casey Decker contributed to this report.