Clark County homeless rate cut in half since ’05

Speaker at Council for Homeless event offers suggestions for further action

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Clark County’s success in cutting its homeless rate in half since 2005 was applauded Friday afternoon.

But keynote speaker Lynn Davison also had a question for those attending the Council for the Homeless annual recognition luncheon.

“If your goal is to end homelessness, and the economy falls apart,” she posed, “what do you do?”

For Clark County, one tactic is to keep doing what you’re doing, said Davison.

“You have demonstrated success here,” said Davison, who has worked with homeless people in Washington for more than 30 years. “Very few communities can say that after five years, they’ve reduced homelessness by 50 percent.”

In the last countywide survey, about 830 homeless people were tallied in Clark County, said Craig Lyons, executive director of the Council for the Homeless.

That’s down from almost 1,600 in the 2005 survey, Lyons said.

Davison gave a nod to the people who helped reduce those numbers: the community partners and volunteers whose contributions were honored during the “Hope & Action” luncheon at Hilton Vancouver Washington.

She pointed out how the local example of collaborative problem-solving isn’t followed by everybody.

“I’ve worked in communities with a fair amount of friction,” she said.

Yep, lots of things are moving in the right direction here, she said … but lots of indicators are going the wrong way in Clark County, including home foreclosures, unemployment rates and percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches.

Scary statistics, she said, and things are unlikely to improve anytime soon.

So what should a community do to solve the problem of homelessness? Davison had some suggestions.

“Stick with your plan. You’ve got a great plan,” Davison said.

But consider adding elements of prevention and diversion to the plan. Preventing people from losing their homes is easier and cheaper than assisting homeless families. Diversion refers to people discharged from jails, prisons and hospitals — including mental hospitals — without a place to live.

“That has to stop,” she said.

“Look for opportunities,” she continued, including services for veterans. Make sure you’re poised to connect with federal resources available to help homeless vets.

Shared housing is another opportunity: It might be two low-income people combining their resources. Or it might be an older person whose home has some extra space.

It’s even more important now for agencies that aid the homeless to have good relationships with landlords.

Foreclosed homes represent an untapped resource, she said. Helping homeless families move into foreclosed homes would “take a bad situation and make it better,” she said. “You would need help from businesses, but you know how to put those things together.

“Make lemon out of lemonade,” she said.

2011 HOPE & ACTION HONOREES

Quiet Hero: Rose Schleif and the Bethel Lutheran Church quilters group. In 15 years, the group has made 3,074 quilts for individuals and families who have received assistance at Share House.

Community Volunteer: Madeleine Cutter, Shelter Clearinghouse. Cutter volunteered for the Council for the Homeless program about 18 months ago after moving to Vancouver from California.

Community Advocate: Pat Wallace, C. Wess Daniels, Camas Friends Church. Pastor Daniels was in his office when a woman asked if she could sleep on the church floor. Daniels and Wallace formed a task force to help the homeless.

Community Partner: Victoria Clevenger, Second Step Housing. Clevenger teaches a “Rent Well” class for people who haven’t had good experiences as tenants; she teaches them how to establish good relationships with landlords.

Community Partner: Ray Sellek, Community Services Northwest. Sellek, who once was homeless, finds people who are on the streets, in camps or in shelters and tells them about resources for homeless people.

Community Supporter: Harry Bresnahan and West Coast Bank; Bresnahan has provided much-needed financial support for the Council for the Homeless, and his commitment is reflected in the bank’s support of council programs.

Community Leader: John McDonagh. McDonagh has been a community volunteer since 1975. Joan Caley, past president of Share — a key council partner — said his contributions aren’t just financial but “in the sharing of his time to complete a task.”