On the coldest day this winter, Trent staff was telling people they could come get warm, then they had to leave. It was all a misunderstanding.
RANGE will continue to monitor and update shelter availability on Twitter.
For several hours today, on the coldest day this winter, where daytime highs barely reached 10 degrees and overnight lows are projected to be -10 degrees with a wind chill of as low as -26 degrees, Trent shelter was telling people seeking shelter that there was no capacity.
In a video sent to City Council members by Julie Garcia of Jewels Helping Hands, JHH Operations Manager Kenny Crary calls the shelter and asks if there is room for five people who are cold. The person on the other line says the shelter is “just letting people come in and get warm and that’s it.”
RANGE was able to independently verify the messaging used by staff in this video. In two phone calls to the shelter’s main line, separate shelter employees each said similar things.
“We’re just doing [a] warming shelter tonight because we don’t have capacity,” said one employee after we identified ourselves as media. “People can come in and get warm and then they can leave.”
We asked if people would be able to come back later if they got cold again, the person replied, “I think they can come in and come out.” The employee confirmed sleeping mats would not be available tonight.
A different employee told RANGE this is because the Salvation Army, which took over shelter operations from the Guardians Foundation in late October, is swapping out the wooden beds purchased by Guardians in favor of metal beds that will better resist pests.
This changeover has been planned for weeks, though it’s unclear why the Salvation Army would choose to make the switch during such frigid conditions.
RANGE called City Communications Director Brian Coddington and Salvation Army’s Major Ken Perrine but neither answered. We left voicemails with both of them and sent emails to them as well as city communications manager Kirstin Davis seeking comment. A 1:45 p.m. call to Council President Beggs found him at Trent to investigate the situation.
In an email Coddington sent Councilmembers at around 2 p.m., he wrote that there had been a miscommunication between The Salvation Army and its front-line staff, writing:
The metal beds are still being brought in for the wooden beds. While this is happening, they are trying to limit extra activity, which is why they are not offering sleeping space for the next few hours. The bed transition caused a little confusion among the staff.
Beggs called back at approximately 3:45 saying that, “if they were turning people away there, they don't seem to be now.”
Beggs also confirmed the bed swap caused challenges. “They did have a huge chaos today — they were switching out those wooden beds for the new metal beds, and so the space was really challenged today,” he said, “but it seems like there's plenty of beds for the people there, and I watched people being admitted to the shelter before I left.”
Coddington followed up with RANGE at around 4:30, confirming the miscommunication among Salvation Army staff and assuring us that “the center is accepting guests for warming today and will have sleeping space for them this evening and/or connect people to other open spaces in the system if that is the best fit or desired decision.”
He said Family Promise and Cannon were the only shelters reported totally full, concluding, “the bottom line and most important thing is people will not be turned away tonight. They will have a place to sleep or get connected to other spaces in the system if it’s a better fit.”
That message appeared to have reached frontline employees when RANGE called the shelter around 6:15 p.m. The staff member who answered confirmed space was available and people wouldn't be turned away.
We followed up with Coddington, asking what steps The Salvation Army is taking to ensure that information is making its way accurately all the way down to its front-line staff. We will update this story if he responds.
Other warming options
In addition to the city’s official warming solution at Trent and the shelters documented on sheltermespokane.org, a handful of other providers have begun offering warming services as well:
Compassionate Addiction Treatment | 168 S Division St. Spokane, WA
CAT has been given clearance by the city to operate a 50+ person warming center at their office on Division Street. They’re working with Yoyot Sp’q’n’i and they will serve meals, warm drinks and provide a place for people to come in from the cold 24 hours a day through Dec. 23 at 6 p.m. They need volunteers to staff the center, learn how here.
Camp Hope | 218 S Ralph St, Spokane, WA
Camp organizers have turned the summer cooling shelter and makeshift headquarters into a warming hut. This hut had been shutting down at 5 p.m. but camp organizers told us it will now operate around the clock for the next two days, at least, according to Empire Health Foundation President Zeke Smith.
As currently configured, the warming hut can sleep approximately 40 people but the occupancy permit allows 115. Camp Hope staff tell us they will accommodate as many people as they can, though certain things inside the shelter cannot be moved easily. All are welcome at the warming hut, not just badged Camp Hope residents.