Vancouver is in need of a day center to serve homeless citizens. Creating a location that provides meals, shower and laundry services and access to transit is an essential part of being a full-service city.
Because of that, the city of Vancouver’s plans to develop a center along Grand Boulevard, near the intersection with Fourth Plain Boulevard, marks an important and worthy humanitarian effort as the area faces a growing homeless crisis. City officials plan to purchase a building that was used by the Department of Fish and Wildlife before the office was moved in 2016.
“The building is a strategic acquisition that will assist in addressing our community’s need to provide services to its homeless population,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said. “Without the availability of a full-service day center in our city, homeless people have been increasingly frequenting parks, businesses and public buildings.”
That touches upon just one of the issues surrounding the proposal and a desire for improved services — amenities that are easily accessible for homeless people without diminishing livability in public spaces. The city currently contracts with Friends of the Carpenter for use of a day center in west Vancouver, but that contract is set to expire at the end of the year. A more stable solution is necessary for city officials to fulfill their duty of providing for our most vulnerable neighbors.
For residents near the proposed new center, the issue is disconcerting. The prospect of increased homeless activity in the area understandably generates concern about criminal activity, drug use and a negative impact on property values. Plus, there are questions about where people will go when the day center is closed.
Indeed, city leaders must engage in fruitful conversations with local residents and pay serious attention to their concerns. The proposal thus far has been forged in secrecy while the $4.3 million purchase was negotiated, and City Councilor Jack Burkman explained on Columbian.com: “There was no way to ask the public who live in the area since this was a financial negotiation that couldn’t be shared. The problem is that others could have used that information to make their own offers, running up the cost to the city.”
Now that the plan is moving forward, a stringent vetting process that includes public input will be essential.
Whether or not the Grand Boulevard site proves to be the best option for the city and for residents, solutions are needed. This year’s Point in Time count, a one-day census of Clark County’s homeless population taken in January, indicated an 8 percent increase over the previous year. Declining to provide services would do little to make homeless citizens leave the city; instead it would represent an abdication of our community’s duty to fellow Americans.
A city does not make homeless people vanish by failing to provide toilets and showers, it simply creates a public health crisis. In San Diego, a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A infected 500 people and resulted in 19 deaths. The outbreak largely affected the city’s homeless population, but even tourists visiting the area contracted the virus.
In the long run, Vancouver must continue to work toward an increase in affordable housing and overnight shelters. But providing necessities for the homeless population is an important part of ensuring that the city takes a civilized approach to the neediest in our community.