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Forget the Intermodal: City says the WorkSource building is perfect for social services site

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The city of Spokane's new integrated social services center could be located in this much-less-controversial building instead of the Intermodal Center. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL MCBRIDE
  • Photo courtesy of Michael McBride
  • The city of Spokane's new integrated social services center could be located in this much-less-controversial building instead of the Intermodal Center.
Everyone agreed on the concept.

The mayor's staff and the City Council agreed the idea of creating an "integrated social services center," a one-stop shop where homeless or low-income people, could get a number of their needs met in a more efficient way.

The dispute, however, was over the planned location: By proposing placing the Intermodal Center in the same building as the Greyhound bus depot, City Council members like Ben Stuckart warned that it could result in many vulnerable people avoiding the facility altogether.

For years, the Greyhound depot has become a target spot for Border Patrol officers. Since Spokane is narrowly within 100 miles from the border, the Border Patrol has expanded powers. And it's used those powers to conduct immigration sweeps on the Greyhound buses, over the fervent objection of Stuckart and others.

In April, Stuckart drew the line in the sand: He wouldn't ever support an integrated social services center at the Intermodal Center as long as it was being targeted by Border Patrol.

"I won't vote for any approval of any construction for the project or any funding until this is resolved," Stuckart says. "I'm actively opposed to it."

But now, the city of Spokane has identified another potential location, one that may make even more sense than the Intermodal Center: the WorkSource building on the southeast corner of downtown on Arthur Street.

"The whole purpose for us is to reduce barriers to access," says Kelly Keenan, Spokane's director of community, housing and human services. "It's trying to continue to move toward co-located housing, work, and other social services in one site."

In fact, in a lot of ways, the WorkSource stands to be a much better option than the Intermodal Center, says Mark Mattke, CEO of the Spokane Workforce Council, the coalition that oversees WorkSource.

WorkSource is effectively already a version of the sort of integrated services model the city is trying to emulate — just one focused on employment, not social services.

"We serve a wide range of customers in employment and training services and in ways that they can plug into the local labor market," Mattke says. "It's a very integrated center. You come in as a customer, you’re not aware you're being served by all these different agencies."

By adding the integrated social service center into the WorkSource building, there's automatic synergy, Mattke says.

"If you're seeking help for housing or social security, and also in the need of employment or career development or credentialing, we see this as being a very holistic," Mattke says.

It's a win for everyone, he says.

"One of our priorities is to connect businesses to talent," Mattke says. "It's a win for the social services that have their customers that are coming to see them have access to all these employee training resources. It’s a win for us to have more talent to serve our business needs. And it a win for businesses who can tap into that talent."

The broader the array of people showing up to the building, he says, the easier it is for employers to find the perfect hire. 

He notes that the integrated services center will be one of only 17 sites across the country to be designated an "EnVision Center" by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Essentially, Mattke says, Spokane is a testing ground that, with the assistance of HUD, will examine whether the integrated social services model should be rolled out in the rest of the nation. 

Stuckart also says the location is pretty close to ideal.

"It’s on a bus route. It’s not far from a lot of the housing [for formerly homeless people]," Stuckart says. "You can walk to it from that end of town."

Unlike the Intermodal Center, the city doesn't own the WorkSource building. It would have to negotiate a lease with the building's owner. But Keenan says that the building will take a lot less rehab work.

"This is a ready-made office space," Keenan says. "The Intermodal would take a lot of upfront capital to prepare."

Ultimately, there's not a lot of difference in cost, he says.

"I don’t see that there’s a huge difference initially, giving that what we’re talking about is a pilot project that’s anticipated to run 12 to 18 months," Keenan says.

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