Local agencies are banding together to open a day center for the homeless to shower, use the bathroom, do laundry, get mail, store belongings and charge cellphones in Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting in December, the 1,200-square-foot space at 1600 W. 20th St. in the Friends of the Carpenter’s warehouse will be run by Share, a local social service agency. Other local nonprofits will help with mental health counseling, general education classes, case management and job searches.
Clark County and the city of Vancouver are each contributing $122,500 to fund the day center’s operations, and the Vancouver Housing Authority is contributing $30,000 toward rent and utilities, for a total of $275,000 for the first year. The city will invest up to $250,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding for equipment (such as a shower trailer) and renovations.
The intent is for the day center to be a two-year interim strategy, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said at Monday’s city council workshop.
“It gives us a tiny bit of breathing room for us to address other strategies,” he said.
Vancouver’s Publicly Funded Shelters
• Share House, 30 beds (+25 overflow beds).
• Domestic Violence Shelter, 23 beds.
• Inn at the Orchard, 46 beds, four beds for single women.
• Valley Homestead, 38 beds, four beds for single women.
• Oak Grove, six beds.
• Janus Youth, 11 beds.
Source: City of Vancouver.
The day shelter is just one piece of a complex puzzle for managing Vancouver’s homeless problem, which is exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing, rising rents and lack of shelter space, Andy Silver, executive director for the Council for the Homeless, told the city council.
Another tactic would be to build housing projects specifically targeted at very low-income people, he said.
“We can’t wait for the housing market to completely turn around before we deal with the homeless issue,” Silver said. “We just don’t have that brick and mortar (building) that’s willing to give them a chance.”
One project in the works is Lincoln Place, a 30-unit facility built by the Vancouver Housing Authority as permanent low-barrier housing for chronically homeless people with severe mental health and physical challenges. The $6 million apartment complex on West Lincoln Avenue between 13th and 14th streets is slated to open next spring.
The city and its partners are in discussions about other potential tactics, including allowing a sanctioned tent city on a designated piece of property and creating a women’s shelter.
Vancouver’s homeless population has been more visible in recent months, with dozens of tents housing roughly 85 people lining the sidewalks near Share House shelter in West Vancouver. The city council voted in September to lift a ban on overnight camping on public property (except for parks), which prompted more people to emerge from the shadows — even though the ordinance doesn’t officially go into effect until Oct. 21.
Homelessness is hardly unique to Vancouver. Some states are seeing a drop in homelessness, but numbers are rising in states including Washington, Idaho and Nevada, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The national point-in-time homeless count shows a drop in homelessness from January 2012, when there were 636,000 homeless people counted, to January of this year, when the one-day count was 578,400.
From 2013 to 2014, homelessness in Washington rose 3.8 percent. The annual January count shows the number of homeless in Clark County has hovered between 600 and 1,000 since 2012.
Up to a quarter of the homeless population is estimated to suffer from severe mental illness, and an estimated half of the chronically homeless have problems with drugs and/or alcohol, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
City leaders and staff have repeatedly said that Clark County has a greater ability to address homelessness than the city does. It’s the state, federal and local designated agency for the countywide homeless plan; it’s responsible for the Homeless Action Plan; it funds more than 20 nonprofit service providers; it distributes more than $5.7 million in funding annually; and it collects revenue countywide for services and housing.
By contrast, the city of Vancouver distributes $300,000 annually in federal Community Development Block Grant funds; pays for the Housing Rehabilitation Program and limited rental vouchers; and has oversight on zoning and city code.