Some residents consider it a worst-case scenario. Many say they won’t go at all.
Where Mission and Trent Avenues meet, cars speed through an uncontrolled crosswalk. The industrial zone is lined with machine and auto body shops, printing services, a combat training center, dog food factory, mini-storage and a lingerie coffee stand where the baristas go topless twice a week.
Soon, it will also be the site of Spokane’s newest homeless shelter.
The Trent Shelter has been a centerpiece of the city of Spokane’s response to the rising unhoused population and the growth of the 600+ person Camp Hope along Highway 90 east of downtown. With a lease that runs more than $26,000 a month, and more than $8 million slated in operating costs for the next 16 months, the shelter is a massive bet that having these beds will make a difference for the unhoused community.
As soon as Friday, Sept. 2, we could begin to see if the bet pays off. That’s the soonest the shelter could be running according to Mike Shaw, the founder and CEO of the Guardians Foundation, which the city is contracting with to run the shelter.
Eight days before the potential opening, RANGE visited the converted warehouse, then went to Camp Hope to talk with camp residents about their interest in moving to the shelter. Everyone I talked to at Camp Hope expressed skepticism if not outright opposition to moving to the shelter. This echoes previous surveys conducted by Jewels Helping Hands that found that only 51 of 601 residents surveyed would go to a shelter depending on the operator. It also calls into question the investment the city has poured into this out of the way location.
The first thing you notice at the Trent Shelter is just how isolated this area is. It’s a place where people come to work, not to stay. The closest store, Oriental Market, is more than a quarter mile down streets with dicey intersections and sketchy to nonexistent sidewalks. The closest transit stops are a couple blocks away in each direction. Both lines require riders to transfer at Spokane Community College. Nothing about the area is pedestrian friendly.
The feel of the warehouse is much the same as the environment outside. After all, it wasn’t designed for people to live, it was built for products to move.
There’s a newly paved parking lot, a large concrete warehouse space and empty offices in the front of the building. On August 25 the construction company retrofitting the space with new insulation and interior siding was waiting on pieces to finish the accessibility ramp into the building. The port-a-potties and portable showers that will be on the outdoor loading docks have yet to be installed. There is at least one internal bathroom that RANGE saw in the building.
Wood dividers section off the large concrete floor that will be the main sleeping area. These chest-high walls will provide a modicum of privacy in the open warehouse. Eventually, the city is planning on framing in small pods inside the space to provide more privacy and security for people staying in the shelter. That concept—individual or two-person sleeping pods– have been popularized as pallet shelters by an Everett, Washington company and is something all the people surveyed at Camp Hope said they’d be interested in living in.
But in this first phase, that won’t be an option: For now, people are left to decide between the privacy of a tent or RV out in the elements at Camp Hope or a clean, warm, but wide open space at the warehouse.
At Camp Hope, Jewels Helping Hands has created a community newsletter pamphlet. This week’s edition encourages people to clean-up the camp, highlights options for identification restoration services and points men to Truth Ministries if they’re interested in leaving the camp for a shelter. Despite the drama over the unpermitted cooling shelter, it continues to operate without a permit and the city has yet to fine the state or attempt to remove the tent.
While not much has changed at Camp Hope, Jewels Helping Hands employee Regina Thompson said she thinks many people are ready to move on from the camp. “Winter’s coming — they’re scared,” she said. Even if it means staying in a warehouse, she thinks people will go to get access to a warm place to stay.
The idea of going to the shelter as a worst case scenario was something RANGE heard repeatedly from people living at Camp Hope.
For Angel, who manages the supply tent at Camp Hope, the shelter isn’t an option she’s planning on or interested in. She said past experiences in shelters, which included curfews, chores and mandatory religious services were overbearing and made her uninterested in going back to a shelter.
That doesn’t leave many good options, and Angel said that she feels scared and lost. “I’m hoping and praying my mom picks me up,” she said. She’s hoping the support of family will help her get her life moving forward.
Standing with Angel outside the supply tent was a camp resident named Jewlz (not to be confused with Julie Garcia the founder and executive director of Jewels Helping Hands). Jewlz said she didn’t think people would go to the shelter after I showed her pictures of the open warehouse with wooden dividers.
“Nobody’s going to do that, there’s no privacy,” she said. “Tiny homes and the motel, that would be good,” Jewlz said, referring to the planned conversion of the former Quality Inn off of Sunset Highway into transitional housing. “I would give anything to be able to get up in the morning, lock my door and then go to a job.”
When I showed James, who was sitting on a chair outside an RV, the pictures of the warehouse, he said it looked like a “new concentration camp.” He said going there would be a last resort. “A motel would be better,” he said. “I like to be independent, do my own thing — I don’t like being around a lot of people.”
Xavier, who was heading from the cooling tent into the main area of camp, said his interest in staying at the shelter depended on how many people were staying there and how cramped it felt. Like everyone I spoke with, he said he preferred a hotel or tiny house.
Another man, who wouldn’t give his name, said that going to the shelter would only be out of desperation. “It’s hard enough just being here [at Camp Hope],” he said. “It’s still good weather now. If I get desperate enough — maybe in winter — I might go.”
Joe, who spoke to me outside the cooling tent while smoking a cigarette, said the biggest issue for him was what kind of sleeping arrangements he could get. He said he has spinal issues that prevent him from laying flat. In the past, other shelters haven’t allowed him the option to sleep in a chair, as he said he needs. “I would go there if I could sleep sitting up,” he said. “I want to check it out first.”
For Laron Robinson, the most important deciding factor was getting direction from Camp Hope’s main champion, Julie Garcia. “We’re rolling with Jewels,” he said. “She’s been with us the whole time. Whatever she says that’s what we’ll do,” Robinson said. “Jewels held it down for us.”
While Robinson said he was placing his faith in Garcia for guidance, the idea of having a place to call his own, like a hotel room, would be an important step for him. “I want to be able to wake up in the morning and just splash water on my face,” he said. “I’m fighting to get out, but it’s hard right now. My self esteem is low and I just feel like I have no options.”
Chris Senn, who just got a job working at a convenience store near Camp Hope, said he’d check out the shelter. For Senn, the most important factor in moving anywhere is security for his belongings. “Everytime I go to work I’m not sure if I’ll come back to anything,” he said. “I need to be able to lock stuff up. It seems like the Quality Inn is a better option.” Shaw, the shelter operator, said that each person will have two totes for personal storage in their bed area and the ability to store two totes in a safe locked area.
Shaw said the opportunities for the Trent shelter are exciting. “It’s a miracle to find so much square footage,” Shaw said. Right now at the Cannon shelter the organization operates, he said they have about 100 people per night staying in a 3,000 square foot building, which is the size of a large home. The Trent Shelter has more than 4,000 square feet of space, Shaw said.
Shaw acknowledged concerns about the shelter, including the lack of nearby food options and the general isolation of the location, but he believes they’ll be able to address those concerns and make the shelter a place people want to be. The operators are planning on running two 16 passenger vans, four SUVs and distributing bus passes to help people move from the shelter to other destinations like jobs or libraries. They also are working to put together a miniature convenience store to offer EBT (federal food stamp) eligible snacks and drinks on-site. There will also be three meals served a day at the site.
“I believe that once someone comes from Camp Hope after a day or two they’ll realize this beats the dirt lot,” Shaw said. “It’s a matter of time before we get into a rhythm and get to where we need to be. All we’re doing is trying to create opportunities.”