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In response to below freezing temperatures and creating safe and healthy space for those experiencing homelessness the regional shelter system is adjusting operations to best meet current needs. Since last week, the regional shelter system activated hoteling as a temporary COVID strategy to use non-congregate sheltering when possible, per CDC guidance during the pandemic. Federal pandemic relief funding was used for that purpose and supplemented with some additional local dollars.
According to the current National Weather Service forecast low temperatures are expected to increase Sunday through Tuesday. The regional shelter system will end the hotel voucher program operated by SNAP for single adults effective today at check-out time. SNAP staff will be on site to assist in transitioning clients. The contract was extended earlier in the week and based on SNAP's staffing capacity and the change in forecasted weather, the contract was set to end today. Families will continue to be served as part of a separate continuing overflow program through Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington.
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"The flexibility to utilize hotels has been a unique solution based because of COVID response combined with extreme weather conditions," said Mayor Nadine Woodward. "These adjustments continue to illustrate the knowledge and excellent teamwork of available resources."
City staff is exploring ways to access additional federal funding options and will assess the need to provide additional space as temperatures are expected to drop back below 32 degrees in the next few days. Temporary flexing of existing shelter spaces and removal of barriers to entry within the regional system remains in place. Recent regional shelter system reports indicate available capacity, which includes low-barrier spaces are available for adult men and women. The number of single adults accessing hotel vouchers has steadily declined this week.
Continuous and collaborative communication within the system has increased awareness and demand for resources. Hundreds of additional spaces have been added over the last two weeks and space continue to fluctuate. There have been spaces open and available for use throughout the night. Regional fire and law enforcement agencies have responded daily to a few cases of exposure among the homeless population and no deaths have been attributed to exposure since the worst of the cold weather began February 9th.
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Federal funding designated to temporarily cover non-congregate space in accordance with CDC pandemic guidance has covered the cost of hundreds of hotel rooms over the past two weeks as extreme weather patterns have activated additional response required by section 18.05.020 of Spokane Municipal Code. Shelter providers have flexed their spaces to create additional low-barrier space for adults and assisted in transportation to hotels and other available shelter space.
Until this adjustment, federal COVID funds have covered most of the non-congregate hotel space. Additional dollars have come from other homeless funding sources, including the Give Real Change campaign that directs community donations to the orange parking meters and My Spokane 311 team to support homeless resource providers.
The regional partner shelter network is comprised of numerous contract and private providers. Funding for the system is provided by Spokane County, the City of Spokane Valley, and the City of Spokane through local, state, and federal dollars. The Spokane Regional Health District partners on street outreach efforts, wellness checks, and health guidance.
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