City vacates building operating as homeless shelter

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SPOKANE, Wash. — A building operating as a homeless shelter was vacated Thursday afternoon following a number of citations issued by the city of Spokane. The notice sent 72 homeless people staying there back out onto the streets.

“We opened the door in good faith,” said Ronald Nelson, owner of the building and lead pastor for God’s Faith International. “Knowing that what we were doing was the right thing.”

Nelson moved in back on July 22, awaiting a meeting with the city. He says through August 16th, they hadn’t heard back.

He decided to open the doors on August 19. Days later, they were paid a visit by city officials.

“The fire chief and a zoning commissioner came by; they said that I had not sent in anything,” said Nelson. “I proved to them that I did, I even sent them the email with absolutely everything that they asked for.”

The city then set up a meeting with Nelson for September 3. Days before, city officials did a walkthrough of the building.

“They said we didn’t have any fire alarms, that we had a person downstairs, and that person was in an area that didn’t have two egresses so they couldn’t be downstairs.”

Nelson moved them out shortly after.

The city also cited the building was in need of a fire suppression system. Nelson countered, saying he has a five year window to have one installed, arguing his building operates as an RCW.

An RCW allows for emergency exemptions when it comes to housing the indigent, allowing businesses more flexibility to navigate around city codes.

“So as far as fire, we are completely compliant with absolutely everything the city asked us to do.”

The city however, doesn’t see it that way. They say the RCW status doesn’t apply because Nelson was utilizing his building with mixed use; meaning the building wasn’t strictly being utilized to as a shelter, as it was also acting as Nelson’s residence.

It’s a sentiment Nelson has grown frustrated with.

“It is no different than any of the other churches around here that have sleeping quarters for their pastors,” said Nelson. “Absolutely no different. It’s not a place of residence, it’s a place for the pastor to lay his head.”

Additionally, the city says Nelson needs a change-of-use that would change the intended purpose of this building, which is currently classified “office-use” in the eyes of the city.