(The Center Square) – Spokane Valley city council members are considering reallocating $1 million in available funding to support local behavioral health programs plus services for victims of human trafficking in the community.

The city originally received the money in 2022, part of a larger $16 million federal allocation for COVID-19 pandemic relief, called Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Initially, the $1 million share was intended for mental health services and mental health learning support for youth programs.

This August, Spokane Valley officials discussed behavioral health program options, including a potential partnership with Spokane County Behavioral Health and the East Valley School District for a student wellness program. But Spokane County commissioners opted to fully fund the program for East Valley schools, and the city’s proposed $1 million contribution was not needed.

“This means that the allocated CLFR funding is still available for mental health/youth mental health programs or any other purpose that Council would like to support,” project manager Virginia Clough wrote in a summary for city council members during their regular weekly meeting Tuesday.

Clough and city manager John Hohman felt that using the money to support either mental or behavioral health services would be an appropriate use of the money.

Councilman Arne Woodard said he would like it to “stay in that category” and that staff could initiate a formal process “as quick as we can” to request proposals from potential groups or organizations which could provide such services. Doing so, said Woodard, “would give everybody a shot.”

Fellow councilman Ben Wick said if behavioral health could be defined in broader terms, he would like to see some money used to address human trafficking concerns affecting the community.

Councilman Tim Hattenburg agreed, indicating it was a growing and distressing problem. “There’s a lot to it,” said Hattenburg, calling human trafficking a “tragic cycle” involving abuse of young people and children. “We could center on that,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Rod Higgins wondered if an opportunity to address the issue quickly might be lost if the city proceeded with the formal request-for-proposals process, which Hohman said could take several months.

Council members mentioned two local nonprofit ministries which have provided support for women escaping trafficking. There was consensus agreement for Hohman and city staff to contact representatives from those groups to see if they could make presentations to the council in the near future, and to “do a quick search” to see if there are other potential service providers.