SPOKANE — Following complaints of increased crime around Catholic Charities properties and citing concern for the safety of the homeless sheltered there, the nonprofit announced this week it has hired a four-person security team with arrest authority and trained by Spokane police to increase safety around its properties.
City Councilman Breean Beggs and Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard commended Catholic Charities for adding additional security when most other shelters have decided it's too expensive.
Complaints from businesses reached a high point last summer when a flyer accused Catholic Charities of building a "small army" of homeless people and a petition called for the nonprofit to stop building any permanent housing for the chronically homeless due to a reported increase in nuisances after the House of Charity shelter downtown started offering 24/7 services in 2016.
Spokane police crime data showed that about 11% of calls downtown from November 2016 to September 2017 occurred in the six-block radius around the House of Charity, despite taking up only 2.4% of the downtown precinct's coverage area. Most of the reported crimes were related to property and theft, while 16% of reported crimes were violent.
David Singley, captain of the downtown Spokane police precinct, said most of the crime during that period was likely related to the high population of people concentrated in the area.
The shelter, which was built for 109, was serving 300 and 400 a night until September 2018, when the city reduced funding and 24/7 services stopped. After that, overnight beds dropped by 150.
Although concerns from businesses and other neighbors played a role in forming the security team, Catholic Charities Housing Vice President Jonathan Mallahan said leaders ultimately decided having their own security team with arrest authority would be more effective in protecting residents and reducing crime than existing third-party security.
Past complaints from businesses resulted in a fenced, covered area for House of Charity residents to reduce crowding on sidewalks, according to a news release.
The main goal of the security team will be to ensure that people at Catholic Charities facilities are staff members or residents and their visitors, not people who aren't permitted to be there, Mallahan said.
"We know it is not our residents that are having that impact on our neighbors, it is people who are preying on the homeless," Mallahan said. "The team's mission is the same as our corporate mission. That is, to provide dignity to those who are vulnerable."
The team started patrolling all of Catholic Charities' downtown properties about a month ago, and all four members completed training last week, Mallahan said. Hiring a security team has been in the works since January.
Three members of the new Neighborhood Safety Team can make arrests for misdemeanors in the area, most commonly trespassing, under a special commission from the police department, Mallahan said. Catholic Charities intends for the fourth security team member to gain special commission in the coming weeks.
Some of the team members have law enforcement and private security experience, and some come from other positions in Catholic Charities, Mallahan said.
Richard of the Downtown Spokane Partnership said businesses near the House of Charity shelter downtown have struggled to keep their staffs safe and their storefronts clean, and he said beefed-up security might reduce those issues.
He said he had spoken with Catholic Charities leadership and had encouraged them to invest in a team once the nonprofit could afford it.
"I applaud Catholic Charities for doing this," he said. "It's certainly going to help."