Hearing on moving day center for homeless draws crowd

Many neighbors of central Vancouver site oppose city’s proposal

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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Dozens of people attended Tuesday’s heated public hearing on the potential relocation of Vancouver’s day center for homeless people. Many residents, business owners and property owners oppose the idea while others, including service providers and formerly homeless people, support it.

The city looks to purchase the 26,578-square-foot former state Fish and Wildlife building in central Vancouver for $4.3 million and use part of it for laundry facilities, storage, showers, restrooms and other services.

“We’re really looking at this location to solve a problem,” said Peggy Sheehan, the city’s community development program manager.

She was among a group of proponents that presented arguments for why Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice should approve the project.

Rice presides over city land use hearings and will decide whether the city can relocate the day center to 2018 Grand Blvd. Rice is an attorney, not a city employee, and is seen as an impartial decision-maker. After her decision, which she has until Jan. 4 to make, the Vancouver City Council will then decide whether to purchase the property.

Andy Silver, executive director of Council for the Homeless, spoke about why 2018 Grand Blvd. should become an “access point” for services, which he said would decrease homelessness — not increase homelessness and problems in the neighborhood. He said the ZIP code that it’s located in, 98661, already has the second-highest concentration of homelessness after 98660.

Many people testifying at Tuesday’s hearing oppose the proposed day center.

Richard Baranzano, who owns Fourth Plain Plaza shopping center, said the entire hearing was prejudiced because the city is already setting aside money to purchase the site. He added that the city’s findings disregard single-family homes near the building, as well as GATE, a program for young adults with development disabilities that’s located nearby.

“This is not even compatible with what they’re proposing,” Baranzano said.

Others who testified said they dislike the uncertainty regarding how the rest of the building could be used in the future. And, they say, that when the day center closes each day people aren’t going to walk miles away from the facility just to come back the next day; they will camp in the neighborhood.

Differing opinions

Amy Reynolds, deputy director of Share, said there are typically 10 to 12 people using the current day center at any given time. If there’s poor weather, around five will wait in front of the building before it opens at 7 a.m. About seven people leave when the facility closes at 5 p.m.

Bridgette Fahnbulleh, president of the NAACP of Vancouver, lives near the proposed day center. She supports the effort and location, and disagrees with people who think the surrounding neighborhood has done enough to help the homeless and shouldn’t be home to the day center.

“Let’s be honest, if we all did enough we wouldn’t need a day center anywhere,” she said.

The current day center at Friends of the Carpenter in west Vancouver opened in December 2015. It was determined to not be viable long-term because the space is small with limited storage and the city couldn’t secure a sewer easement to construct restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. C-Tran also discontinued bus service, and truck traffic increased in the area.

Prior to Tuesday’s hearing the city held two public open houses, attended neighborhood association meetings and solicited feedback from people. By the Dec. 4 deadline, the city got 181 pages of emailed comments. Most people were against the idea, some calling the proposed day center a “crime magnet” that’s at odds with efforts to revitalize the Fourth Plain corridor. Email from residents and property owners describe a downtrodden area that has improved but is also seeing an increased presence of homeless people. Others say the proposed day center is too big and too expensive.

Those in support of relocating the day center called it a “much-needed resource for the homeless of Vancouver” and said that it is “critical that our community have a multiservice day center in an accessible location.” Several agencies that serve people who are homeless or exiting homelessness, such as Share, Second Step Housing, Janus Youth, Columbia River Mental Health Services, Vancouver Housing Authority, Community Services Northwest and REACH Community Development, voiced their support.

Rice has up to 10 business days to make her decision. If she approves the relocation of the day center, then purchasing the property would tentatively come before city council on Jan. 8. The city’s deadline for a purchase decision is Jan. 9.