Faith organizations, government team up to provide beds at Spokane’s Trent homeless shelter
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News story by John McCallum
Thanks to some quick coordination between government and faith-based institutions, some homeless in Spokane now have new and safer places to sleep.
This past week, 116 missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered at a building on the grounds of the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center to assemble 350 recently purchased metal beds for the city of Spokane’s Trent Resource and Assistance Center. The beds, purchased by Spokane County in November, will replace 250 existing wooden beds at the shelter.
“It’s a blessing to participate and share in this project,” Latter-day Saints President of the Washington, Spokane Mission Christopher J. LeBaron, said. “That’s the best way to share our love.”
Latter-day Saints’ Communication Director—Greater Spokane Region Jennifer Hicks said she was contacted by the Spokane Mayor’s Office late in the week of Dec. 11 – 17 about the need for volunteers to assemble and transport the beds. Hicks in turn contacted LeBaron to ask if he would “get behind the request,” and he quickly agreed, postponing and rescheduling two conferences to coordinate the effort.
“We really dropped everything and mobilized,” LeBaron said.
LeBaron oversees the work of 200 missionaries in the Spokane/Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho region. The region is split into 13 zones made up of 12 – 18 missionaries per zone.
The missionaries are men and women ages 18 – 24 who come from Latter-day Saints’ stakes, territories, throughout the United States. Those taking part in the bed building project were from all three Pacific Coast states as well as Idaho, Utah, several Midwest states and as far away as Georgia, New York and Maryland.
After talking with his two assistants, LeBaron contacted each of the zone leaders to explain what was needed. They decided to not request volunteers from zones to the south in the Pullman/Moscow area or north of Spokane, focusing instead on the zones traversing the Spokane–Coeur d’Alene corridor.
Those zone leaders organized their volunteers into groups and arrived in Spokane Valley to begin work on the beds on Monday (Dec. 19). LeBaron said when they showed up, there were a lot of materials but just some “rough plans” and little details on how to organize the volunteers.
It was the volunteers who essentially put their collective heads together to organize themselves into teams handling specific duties. LeBaron said that enabled them to build all 350 beds within two hours on Monday, leaving the rest of the day and Tuesday — Thursday to remove the wooden beds at the shelter and install the new metal frames, that also included privacy partitions.
The new beds were needed for a number of reasons, including meeting the sleeping needs of the Trent shelter’s 350-person capacity. The new shelter is managed by the Salvation Army, which took over after the city of Spokane terminated a $6.5 million contract with the previous operator, The Guardians Foundation.
Salvation Army volunteer Ian Robertson said the beds left by the Guardians were wooden, which created a potential health risk.
“Bed bugs love wood,” Robertson said, adding the potential risk could grow if more people were sleeping in the area on the former wooden beds.
The beds were purchased by Spokane County with a $500,000 allocation from the County Commissioners in November. The purchase — which also included mattresses, linens, an eight-stall shower trailer and two office trailers for the site — came after the city of Spokane and the county each declared a state of emergency to deal with issues surrounding the homeless camp in East Spokane — Camp Hope.
Spokane County Emergency Management Deputy Director Chandra Fox said the city in their declaration also requested the county open its Emergency Operations Center, which allows for better coordination of efforts and an avenue for additional resources.
“It just makes it easier for us to work quickly,” Fox said.
Most of the work of the volunteers since assembling all the beds on Dec. 19 has been transitioning the old beds out of the Trent shelter and installing the new ones. LeBaron said this required moving homeless people currently staying at the shelter into temporary locations in the shelter while the beds were switched out.
That work was to wrap up late Thursday or early Friday (Dec. 21 – 22). As reported by the online publication Range Media, the bed swap apparently created confusion among shelter employees who told some people contacting the facility on Dec. 21 that it was not taking overnight guests.
The miscommunication was cleared up that afternoon and no one was turned away from the shelter on one of the coldest nights of the year where temperatures dropped below zero.
Robertson of the Salvation Army said there will eventually be a need for more beds, and that the shelter won’t solve the issue of homelessness.
“We need a heart change in addressing the problem,” he said, adding a place is needed “Where people can be a way out of homelessness, addiction, the criminal justice system. This is step one.”
For LeBaron of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the bed project was just one way of putting faith into action, quoting a passage from the Church’s Book of Mormon that “When you are in the service of your fellow human beings, you are in the service of God.”
“We are the hands of Christ right now,” he said. “If Christ were here, he would be among the downtrodden. Christ would be in the middle of Camp Hope.”
John McCallum is a freelance writer living in Liberty Lake. A graduate of Eastern Washington University with degrees in Journalism and Radio-Television, John spent 21 years at the Cheney Free Press as an award-winning staff reporter, editor, managing editor and photojournalist; writing and photographing people, places and things ranging from government to education, sports, religion and current affairs. He is a member of Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church, has served as a church leader on session and participated in worship through a variety of roles ranging from pulpit speaking to the Knox Drama Team. He is a member of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest Guatemala Task Force, making six mission trips to that Central American country. John enjoys time with his wife, Sheila, and their Dachshund, Lacey, at home and on the road — especially the Oregon Coast — along with running, biking and kayaking.