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Spokane may spend millions keeping TRAC open amid shift in homeless strategy

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(The Center Square) – Spokane is moving forward with a plan to close the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, or TRAC, but one of the first steps involves spending almost $2.5 million to keep it open through September.

The city council still needs to approve the funding, but on Monday, the Urban Experience Committee heard a presentation on Spokane’s homeless shelter system, setting the stage.

Sara Clements-Sampson, vice president of resource development at United Way of Spokane County, presented committee members with the results of an audit on the shelter system.

Key recommendation from the audit include introducing smaller shelters scattered throughout the city coupled with a “navigation” center, which Mayor Lisa Brown pitched last month as part of the process of closing TRAC.

“Providers, the police, a lot of stakeholders, were really interested in this model,” Clements-Sampson said, “of having a navigation center that can really leverage already existing partnerships and those that are doing good work in our community.”

The navigation center would help direct people to scattered sites and other housing options while also assessing behavioral health needs. Clements-Sampson said the center would operate 24 hours a day and include 30 beds for overnight stays.

The scattered site model follows a pilot program from last year that set up shop in churches during a cold snap. She said the city plans to request proposals later this month from providers to operate the shelters at around 20 to 30 beds per location.

“That navigation center is what TRAC was supposed to have been all along,” Council President Betsy Wilkerson said during the meeting.

However, she questioned whether the city would continue to front the cost of provider services at the new center. Clements-Sampson said services would ideally be covered using state funding secured for proposals.

The city anticipates spending $8 million to transition to the new model while closing TRAC. Clements-Sampson said the Legislature awarded half of this, while the other half comes from an Emergency Housing Fund Grant.

The process will take time, though, longer than currently allotted under last month’s TRAC renewal, which keeps the large congregate shelter open until the end of May.

Under a new proposed contract, The Salvation Army would continue operating TRAC until Sept. 30. However, Spokane reserves the right to cease the agreement at any time, according to details in the meeting agenda.

The plan is to reduce the total number of beds and associated costs while ensuring there is no lapse in emergency shelter services as TRAC is gradually decommissioned.

If approved, the new contract will focus on a daily bed rate model. The goal is to keep costs to $80 per guest per day, with the monthly budget capped at $620,000. According to details in the agenda, the model allows the organization to spend more or less as needed instead of keeping a set number of beds open.

The Spokane City Council is expected to vote on the amendment granting TRAC’s four-month renewal at a meeting in the coming weeks.