Discovery Of Body Highlights Shelter Issues

SPOKANE – It appears the person whose body was found in Lincoln Park Sunday morning was a homeless man, who likely died in the cold.

This death comes as city officials once again look at raising the temperature needed to activate the warming centers. This winter, when it gets below 15 degrees, Hope House is one of the shelters that takes in extra homeless. But when it gets cold, many still are left outside to deal with the elements. Some don’t survive.

“At about 8 o’clock, we got a call of a possible dead body,” said Ofc. Bill Hager of the Spokane Police.

The discovery in Lincoln Park doesn’t appear suspicious, and it doesn’t appear to be foul play. Likely, it is a homeless man who died in the cold. Last night, it was right around freezing, making it cold enough for a hard night on the streets.

“Having homeless people on the street when the temperatures are below freezing is unhealthy for them,” says Rusty Barnett of Hope House.

In addition to the dangers of the cold, many homeless turn to alcohol and drugs on the streets. Those addicitions that make low temperatures more dangerous.

“Chances of them dying increases as the temperature lowers,” says Barnett.

That’s why Hope House and other Spokane shelters are working with the city on its warming center system. Since it started in 2006, the temperature that triggered the opening of shelters has gone from five to 10 to 15 degrees.

“We’ve talked about increasing the temperature to 20 degrees,” Barnett says. “I think we’ll be in negotiations with the city to do that next winter.”

But raising the temperature also raises problems. Five degrees is a big change, and it’s been 20 or below 32 times since November.

Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan says funds from the city and county could cover the plan, without any additional costs. The hangup right now is room and volunteers. Hope House has been at capacity for almost all winter. When it takes in extra women, they don’t get beds, but chairs.

“Space is also an issue. We have only the 34 beds,” says Barnett. “So for us to be a warming center, we take just eight women in, where would these people be?”

If the change goes through, it could double how many times the warming centers are activated. That costs about $100-$200 extra a night. No matter the cost, all the shelters say they’ll do all they can to help as many homeless as possible.