Miracle on East Sprague may be too strong a term, even at this time of year. But if the Truth Ministries shelter opens by Christmas in a frozen city with more homeless than there are beds for them, who’s to say divine intervention was not at work?
“God has not led us this far only to let us down now,” Truth Ministries director Marty
McKinney said Sept. 1, the day he moved his evicted shelter into a dilapidated former
antiques emporium at 1910 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane. The Fire Department would not let
the shelter open, however, without a sprinkler system, among other necessary improvements,
in which McKinney and his wife, Julie, had no money to invest.
Three and a half months later, Truth Ministries has its sprinkler system. More than two dozen pipe fitters installed it Saturday – a two-week job completed in one day.
As if getting a bunch of union workers to work on their day off wasn’t enough, several Spokane construction companies donated the design and materials to the project at a time of year when they were racing to get their own work done before winter.
Also, former Mayor Jim West allowed Truth Ministries to house its homeless in a temporary camp at the abandoned Playfair racetrack while the work got under way. And a city councilman, who is also an architect, stepped in pro bono to oversee renovation.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of good people coming to the table,” said Al French, the councilman and architect. “It’s reassuring to see the construction industry coming together to make this possible.”
French estimated the cost of renovating the building Truth Ministries shares with the Mending Fences Fellowship Church at “well over $100,000, easy,” in design, labor and materials – all donated.
In September soon after the ministry moved in, Mike Solvie of Creighton Engineering visited the facility to see what it would take to bring it up to code.
“I went down there that first day and came back and talked to my boss about what role would be appropriate for us to do,” Solvie said.
It was determined that the entire facility – about 14,000 square feet – needed “sprinklering,” plus heat and smoke detection and alarms. A water main more than 300 feet away under 1st Avenue needed to be tapped.
Solvie saw the project as “an opportunity to help somebody,” employing his own skills. So did a lot of other people, companies and Sprinkler Fitters Local 669, which bought the permits and provided the labor to install the sprinkler system.
Helping the homeless is “a worthy cause,” said sprinkler fitter Mike Suenkel, a foreman at Cascade Fire Protection. “I might be that way someday and need a place to stay.”
Local 669 organizer Mitch Smith put it another way.
“It’s just like when a kid falls through the ice,” he said. “Everybody drops what they’re doing to save him. That’s what this is.”
As Smith spoke Saturday, pipe fitters scurried around carrying sections of steel pipe of various lengths, donated by the companies they work for, companies that normally are competitors.
Jerry Coburn of Patriot Fire Protection, who drew the shop drawings the workers were using, stood by to answer any questions about the system, which took more than 2,000 feet of pipe.
Earlier this fall, Fire Protection Specialists LLC designed, donated and installed a fire detection and alarm system covering 20,000 square feet, including attic space.
But renovation could not have begun without first assessing whether it was possible to tap into the city’s water supply and then putting together a team to do it.
“That was the deal-breaker,” Solvie said. “If we couldn’t get that done, nothing would have happened.”
By coincidence, Jim Correll of the engineering consulting firm CH2M Hill had just read about Truth Ministries’ challenge.
“This is exactly what we like to do,” Correll said of his company’s charitable projects. “It was a tangible project with a line-of-sight goal.”
After securing funding from the Rotary Club’s civic affairs committee, which Correll chairs, and the Whitney Foundation, city crews installed the line down Magnolia Street.
Lance Pounder Excavating donated the excavation work, and Spokane Rock prepared the trench for repaving.
Correll said everyone involved in the project was motivated by the desire to help the homeless.
“This has really been a breakneck project to get these people off the streets,” Correll said. “It was the right thing to do.”
By noon Saturday, the Sprinkler Fitters were ready to break for lunch, having completed more than two-thirds of the installation.
Before they gathered around to eat food prepared by Truth Ministries volunteers, McKinney had something to say to them.
“You guys did something huge here today, and we will remember it the rest of our lives,” he said. “God bless you.”
The sprinkler system will be inspected this week. McKinney hopes to open the shelter before Christmas Day.
A big thank you to the many individuals and companies contributed their time and resources to bringing the Truth Ministries homeless shelter up to fire and building codes. They include: