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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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Open House Ministries’ family resource center breaks ground

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

On a stormy Tuesday afternoon, Jack Foyt gripped a white tent, trying to keep the wind from knocking it over, as he helped set up for the groundbreaking of Open House Ministries’ family resource center. As project manager, he’ll help build the 15,558-square-foot building — a longtime vision finally coming to fruition.

The nasty weather served as a testament to the need for a third building on Open House Ministries’ campus occupying a block on the west edge of downtown Vancouver. The faith-based nonprofit serving the homeless doesn’t currently have a space that can accommodate large groups. The main residential building houses up to 107 people, and there isn’t a way to have a meeting with both staff and residents. About 70 people can gather in the basement.

While the rain let up for Tuesday’s ceremony, the wind still ruffled the tents as dozens of people gathered on a gravel lot to learn about the project that will occupy the lot in about a year’s time.

Seventeen years ago residents joked, “Wouldn’t it be amazing it this could be the God block?” said Renee Stevens, Open House’s executive director. While everybody had a different vision for what that block would look like, over the years the staff and board eventually agreed that a multipurpose space was most needed — a place where residents in the 30-unit shelters could play, gather and learn.

A mix of classrooms, offices, conference rooms and a gymnasium would house and help Open House expand its programs. The idea is that Open House could be more active and visible in the larger community, taking a greater role in preventing homelessness.

“It’s not just about getting our residents back out into the community but really pulling the community here,” Stevens said.

And, the partner agencies that work with Open House would have satellite offices. Community Services NW, for example, currently works out of the basement providing outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment several times a week.

Before Open House bought the lot in 2014, the boarding house that used to occupy it was at odds with the clean-and-sober shelter. The surrounding neighborhood is not particularly safe, and many sex offenders live nearby, said Mark Roskam, Open House’s chaplain. At any given time there are 65, 70 children living at Open House. The future gymnasium would be a place where resident children and children from the neighborhood could play together. There will also be public Sunday services in the building, which many churches have already expressed interest in, Roskam said.

“This is a troubled little piece of real estate, downtown Vancouver,” he said. “We’re excited to be part of the solution down here. The need’s never been greater.”

The wait list to take part in Open House’s program is months long, and the transitional shelter is always full.

Offices currently occupy six studio apartments in the residential building, which was built 20 years ago. Building the resource center will return those six units to their original purpose.

“It’s 24 people off the streets,” Stevens said.

Builder Jack Harroun first began volunteering with Open House when the residential building was under construction. The nonprofit relies heavily on volunteer support.

“It’s amazing to me the amount of volunteers and the effectiveness of that,” he said. “It’s a great model.”

Harroun got more involved after moving to the Hough neighborhood, a few blocks from Open House. After Open House bought the land, Harroun was tasked with putting together an all-volunteer building committee. He will be superintendent of the project. Excavators are to start churning dirt soon. Lisa Slater of Slater Architecture, who has lots of experience designing buildings for nonprofits, was hired as the architect.

The building will be called the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Family Resource Center, and the residential building will be named after Joanne and the late Bob Kendall, longtime donors who helped start Open House Ministries in 1986.

Funding for the $2.9 million building came from a mix of individual supporters and foundations; it’s about 86 percent funded. Any money left over when it’s complete would be put toward refurbishing the residential building and expanding the childcare center.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said the resource center is a great and necessary addition to downtown Vancouver. He said homelessness is “an issue for all of us to work together on and get our arms around.”

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith