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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Council for Homeless, pastor plan village of 40 tiny houses

Temporary ‘Band-Aid’ intended to aid those most vulnerable who need a leg up

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
3 Photos
Bill Ritchie, chairman of the Clark County Commission on Aging, left, chats Thursday with Adam Kravitz, future site manager of the village for the homeless that will be built in a field at Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene in Vancouver.
Bill Ritchie, chairman of the Clark County Commission on Aging, left, chats Thursday with Adam Kravitz, future site manager of the village for the homeless that will be built in a field at Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene in Vancouver. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Council for the Homeless and a local pastor are leading an effort to build a temporary, emergency village of 40 tiny houses for 50 homeless people this winter at a church next to Garrison Square shopping center.

Forty 8-by-10-foot insulated garden sheds with windows and locking doors will be erected on a fenced, 1.5-acre empty field just north of Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene’s parking lot at 8100 E. Mill Plain Blvd. Aimed at housing the most vulnerable of the homeless, the village will accommodate single women, adults with no minor children and elderly single men. It will have six portable toilets and two large, heated trailers for eating, computing, meeting with caseworkers and hanging out. Tenants won’t be allowed to have visitors, but pets will be permitted.

The village will remain on the site for 12 months, said Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless.

“This is a temporary way to provide more safe emergency shelter while we’re figuring out how to create more permanent emergency shelter capacity in the community,” he said Thursday. “This isn’t a long-term solution. … This is a Band-Aid.”

Bill Ritchie, founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church and chairman of the Clark County Council for the Aging, came up with the concept in October after reading a story in The Columbian about people camping by the Share House homeless shelter in tents and mobile huts. He’s been hashing out the details for weeks with the city, county, churches and social service agencies.

They all hope the village will be a template “for the kind of thing we can do as a city going forward,” Ritchie said Wednesday.

“We’re trying something that’s never been done here before,” he said. “There are lots of moving parts with this. … We know we will probably hit some speed bumps, and we will deal with them immediately when we do.”

No formal agreements have been signed yet, but all partners are committed to making it happen, Silver said. Clark County will provide the majority of funding for operations, which are expected to be between $200,000 to $250,000, he said.

That figure doesn’t include building materials and construction. Silver said he hoped the community would donate the estimated $40,000 needed to build the tiny houses, given the recent outpouring of concern about street homelessness and the lack of shelter space to house everyone.

The Council for the Homeless will select the village’s tenants. Church groups will serve hot meals every night. (Food can’t be prepared on site because there isn’t a commercial kitchen.) Council for the Homeless will contract with Consumer Voices Are Born, a mental health agency, to provide peer-to-peer support at the village, which will have a full-time manager living on the site in a trailer to enforce strict rules.

“We want to do everything we can to help these people to gain a footing in life and move forward,” Ritchie said.

The site is bordered by 82nd Avenue, which dead ends into an apartment complex. It was chosen because it’s close to a hospital, a bus line and shopping, said Ritchie, who emphasized it would be “a nice place.” The sod will be stripped and the ground covered with a weed barrier and gravel. The lumpy earthen berms bordering the camp will be shaved down and covered in bark dust. The village will have off-street parking for residents and service personnel.

The church is allowing the village on its property because “we just saw a need and saw the opportunity to do something of benefit for the community,” Pastor David Edwards of Safe Harbor church said Thursday. “But we don’t want a homeless camp.”

The village will be for vulnerable people who need a leg up, he said.

“We’re not equipped to deal with the chronic homeless, the mentally ill or the drug culture. We will insist on some rules of behavior,” said Edwards, whose congregation of about 60 members was established in 1952. “Part of our rules is we reserve the right to remove somebody … if they don’t follow the rules.”

Out of consideration for neighbors, steps are being taken to ensure the village is attractive, neat and clean, Ritchie said. The meeting and dining trailers will be positioned to shield the temporary houses, which will be set back more than 100 feet from the street.

Want to Help?

The Council for the Homeless is trying to raise $40,000 for building materials for tiny houses for the homeless. To donate money, send a check to Council for the Homeless, 2500 Main St., Vancouver, WA 98660. Write “tiny houses” on the memo line. Donations also can be made online at www.councilforthehomeless.org/donate.

Once the building materials are purchased, volunteers will be needed to assemble the tiny houses. Organizers also are seeking churches willing to serve nightly hot meals to tenants of the tiny village after it opens. They’re also hoping someone might donate a food cart, which would provide the village with a commercial kitchen for food preparation. Anyone interested in helping is asked to contact Bill Ritchie at bill@bestdaysahead.net.

So far, Edwards has had one visit and one email from neighborhood residents concerned about the project. When Edwards explained the plans to the neighbor who stopped by, “he was very much in favor of it,” Edwards said.

Work will start as soon as possible, Ritchie said. However, before construction begins, the city must approve plans and permitting, contracts need to be in place with the church and Clark County, money for the tiny houses must be raised and a “good neighbor agreement” must be negotiated with the North Garrison Heights neighborhood association, Silver said. A neighborhood association meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 at City Hall to discuss the plan.

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