Local GOP dispute is apparently resolved

Eric Peterson

A winter warming shelter for area homeless people may be far from the minds of those sweating through a scorching summer, but at least one Lewiston resident has started giving the issue his full attention.

Retired attorney Eric Peterson announced Wednesday that he has been working with the Lewiston Corps of the Salvation Army on the project. He said leadership at the nonprofit agency has agreed to offer its 21st Street sanctuary as a site for the shelter if funding can be secured. Lts. David and Joleen Aycock with the Salvation Army were out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Peterson said he had been out of town for an extended period dealing with family issues, but returned recently to find that an informal committee that has been working toward a shelter still has a lot of work to do.

“This is all stuff that should have been done in February or January,” Peterson said of preliminary work toward a shelter.

Committee member and Twin County United Way CEO Suzanne Johnson couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday for comment on its progress.

According to Peterson’s plan, trained employees will be needed for the service, which would run from Oct. 1 to April 1. He proposed a budget of $350,000 for the project based on the shelter’s payroll and benefit needs, and said volunteers would not be preferable since paid employees can be insured in the event of injury.

Peterson has requested financial support from Nez Perce County, the city of Lewiston, Asotin County and the city of Clarkston, possibly from their federal COVID-19 relief allocations that can be used to address the needs of homeless people, he said. A grant may also be sought from the Lewis-Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation, and other grant options are being pursued. But Peterson noted that the timing may not work out since many application deadlines have passed.

Lewiston City Manager Alan Nygaard said that he would rather see the community come together to support a warming shelter, rather than relying on local government support.

“I’ve seen it over and over, as soon as the city pays for it, everybody else disappears,” he said. “I appreciate Eric’s passion, and we want to find a way to be supportive. But first and foremost, we want to find a way for the community to be supportive.”

Nygaard said most local government agencies already have plans for their relief funds. But the other side of that coin is that there are other sizable pots of COVID-related grant money available for helping homeless people. In fact, he said he’s never seen so much funding up for grabs during his entire career.

He added that city staff has provided resources to the committee, like homeless statistics that can be used for writing grant applications.

Peterson’s plan is just for the coming winter, an approach that might work well since Spokane’s Union Gospel Mission is working toward opening a permanent shelter on Snake River Avenue as early as next year.

Peterson is a member of the Lewiston Disability Advisory Commission, which has been actively discussing issues surrounding homelessness in the area for years. But he said his work toward a warming shelter has been independent of the commission. Those who would like to contribute to the effort or help in other ways may contact Peterson at civiclightdesk@gmail.com.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or at (208) 310-1901, ext. 2266.