The 90 day contract to operate the Spokane Arena as a homeless shelter expired on Thursday. But as one shelter closed, another one opened in its place about a mile away at 55 W. Mission, just west of Division.
The shelter will be operated by The Salvation Army and has been dubbed "The Way Out Shelter". The Salvation Army says the purpose of the shelter is to not just house people, but to help them move forward in life.
"What we want to see is people getting their life back together and start move forward, so they can be productive citizens," Salvation Army Major Ken Perine said.
For Mike Lish and other business owners near the new shelter, concern looms.
"I'm just afraid during the day there's going to be 100 people mulling around the neighborhood," Lish, President of D-Lish's Hamburgers said. "My concern is downtown's moving north."
D-Lish's has been a local staple for more than two decades. On Thursday, Lish was outside of his restaurant trimming landscape and opening up the area a bit, preparing for an influx of people experiencing homelessness.
Lish has had two recent break-ins and is growing worried with the shelter opening up just a block away, the problem might get worse.
"It's amazing the amount of needles we found in the bushes," Lish said of his cleanup operations.
Along with drug paraphernalia, garbage and human waste are common in the area and Lish isn't the only person worried about the effects of the shelter opening.
"There's a lot of garbage that we clean up and we don't let it sit around. As business owners, we work really hard to make sure our area is safe," Owner of de Soleil Jennifer Schwarzer said. "The problem is the disrespect to the buildings and business owners around here from the homeless people."
Schwarzer has operated her salon in the area for nearly six years and says those experiencing homelessness around her business is nothing new. Most will move along and pick up after themselves when asked, according to Schwarzer, but she's concerned about the growing number of people who won't.
"It's not that I'm not sympathetic," Schwarzer said. "It's the ones that aren't asking for help. The ones that are disrespectful and inappropriate to employees and customers to damaging property and not moving on when they're asked to."
Schwarzer believes the ban of the sale of certain alcoholic beverages in the downtown core has driven homeless people north, where they can buy it at convenience stores near her salon and with the homeless shelter opening up near those convenience stores, too, she fears the problem will only get worse.
Then there are the residents who live in the area. They share the concerns of Schwarzer and Lish, and added, they're frustrated that they didn't have a choice in the matter.
"None of us were told or consulted anything about moving the shelter across the street from us. We feel very dumped upon," Jim Becker said standing next to his wife Joann in their front yard. "We certainly support taking care of the homeless population, but when it's dumped in your neighborhood without any forewarning or input on your part then well obviously we're not very happy."
"I'm thinking how can we help them? How can we help them become prosperous and find their own homes and keep them from wanting to sleep out in the streets?" Joann added.
Joann's question reflects the mission the Salvation Army and Major Ken Perine want to achieve with the new shelter, while working with their neighbors.
"We're going to run this exactly the same way we run our other campuses in that, making sure it's a safe place for folks living here, but also our neighbors and that people that come in for our programs are actually working our programs and moving on in life.," Perine said at press conference on Thursday.
To help ease the minds of businesses and neighbors, The Salvation Army says they shelter will have security and rules, including a curfew, a no loitering policy and no substance use on campus.
"If you're firm on your rules, people will get that and they will follow," Major Perine said.
For business owners and people living near the new shelter, time will tell.
"All of the business owners that I've talked to, we're all compassionate to the plight. We want a solution, too," Lish said. "Right now, it's the benefit of the doubt. We're gonna give it some time and see how it works out. And I pray to God that it works out well."
For a glimpse of how it could work out, I figured we'd check in with Mark Starr, the owner of David's Pizza, who expressed similar concerns to Mike and Jennifer back when the Arena shelter opened in May.
"It's a tough spot to be in, but I don't see how moving it into a strong retail environment, or a struggling one in this case, is going to help," Starr said in an interview back in May.
"I don't know, but I don't think having another shelter so close to another business district is such a good idea," Mike Lish said, nearly echoing Starr's previous comments, on Thursday.
90 days after the Arena shelter opened, I asked Starr to reflect on the experience.
"It wasn't as bad as we thought it would be at the start," Starr said. "As time went on and they became more comfortable in the neighborhood, things did get a little worse."
Ultimately, Starr credits a couple of things for the arrangement working out as best it could.
"The Arena staff did an amazing job of not only taking care of their property, but our block as well," Starr said. "Let's just put it this way, nothing took place that we didn't expect."
The Salvation Army says they'll constantly be working with their residents as they work to move them forward in life.
"You're either in the program or you're out. There's no hanging out nearby (the shelter)," Major Perine said. "I think out site on Indiana proves that's the way we run our sites."
Starr also recommended Lish and other business owners to communicate with each other and police.
"Something that we learned early on with this is group communication is critical. Spokane Police Department they're hungry for knowledge on that. They want to know about things that upset business or make an unsafe environment, they want to know about it," Starr said.
Ahead of the curve on that recommendation, Lish, Schwarzer and other business owners have already been talking.
"More communication I think would help a ton," Schwarzer said. "Businesses getting involved, businesses helping each other out is really good."
"Anything happens around here, we're calling Crime Check to let them know there's a problem," Lish added.
Starr mentioned communication with the police is just one aspect. Communication with the organization running the shelter was also extremely helpful for him.
"This particular group did a weekly call around to make sure things were right in the neighborhood," Starr recalled.
Did the shelter affect business?
"We managed it the best we could and it worked out OK. Just the same, you know, doesn't mean you don't have problems," Starr said. "We've had customers, depending on the street activity at the time, call up and say can you bring the food out? We don't necessarily feel safe."
The Salvation Army says they will hold weekly meetings where residents and business owners can learn about the shelter, vent concerns, and make the shelter aware of any problems they've had.
Neighborhood resident Jim Becker already plans on being at the meeting on Monday.
"This is going to be the big test now before Monday," Becker said. "We'll see what happens with opening weekend and what kind of things happen in the neighborhood? Do things get worse? I'm sure we're gonna have a lot of questions come Monday."
The Salvation Army plans for the shelter to be permanent while offering resources to residents who want to better their lives. Those resources include drug and alcohol counseling, housing guidance and job searching. They want to achieve the best for their residents while also building and maintaining a good relationship with their neighbors. To do that, they encourage their neighbors to reach out.
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