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News / Life / Clark County Life

Open House opening hearts and doors

New resource center to focus on programs for kids, supporting families

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: September 27, 2017, 6:00am
5 Photos
Open House Ministries Executive Director Renee Stevens walks through the family resource center. “There’s just been a lot of negativity surrounding homelessness, so I think this is exciting,” she said.
Open House Ministries Executive Director Renee Stevens walks through the family resource center. “There’s just been a lot of negativity surrounding homelessness, so I think this is exciting,” she said. “It’s positivity growing in the community.” Andy Bao/The Columbian Photo Gallery

When Vanessa Estrada exited addiction treatment and recently returned to Open House Ministries, where she lives with her daughters, she was surprised by the three-story building rising on campus. It wasn’t there when she first entered the transitional shelter in 2015.

She can picture her daughters, who are 3 and 4 years old, burning off their boundless energy running around the building’s gymnasium when it’s all done.

“They would love that,” Estrada said.

She used to take her daughters on walks to Esther Short Park, and she plays with them in the shelter’s common area, where residents congregate. However, that space can get cramped.

“Just two blocks from here there are people sleeping on the streets. It’s not safe outside for the kids, and they need to stretch their legs,” said Judy McMorine, development director at Open House.

When the 15,558-square-foot resource center, which will be called the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Family Resource Center, is complete sometime next spring, spaces in the residential building that are currently offices will revert back to studios housing homeless families. That means more people — including more children — will stay at the shelter.

Executive Director Renee Stevens’ main goal for the resource center is to develop youth programming. Although the population of the residential building changes, there are typically 65 to 70 children living there. Sometimes, there are more teens, and sometimes more babies and toddlers.

Children at Open House, including Estrada’s energetic, giggly daughters, have trauma in their lives, making intervention important. The resource center opens up more opportunities for play therapy, organized sports and activities, and generally provides a place for kids to just be kids, separate from the shelter building.

“It’s just going to boost their esteem. It’s going to make them feel like they’re a part of something,” Stevens said.

Reaching out

In the last 1 1/2 years, Open House has engaged more with neighborhood associations and a city-run homeless ideas group about the progress and purpose of the $3.35 million resource center. This comes amid debates over where services for people experiencing homelessness should be built in Vancouver.

“My interaction with community partners has been very positive,” Stevens said. “The neighborhood seems to be excited. I think everybody is excited that it’s a resource center and not another shelter.”

She noted that there is a city ordinance in place that would prohibit another homeless shelter in such close proximity to what already exists on the west edge of downtown Vancouver. (The city is considering repealing the ordinance and replacing it with zoning code changes.)

The resource center will house services and programs. Estrada, who wants to return to school, could get connected to resources she needs to pursue her education and her dream of working for a school district.

“I just think that they’re really trying to look at the issue systemically,” said Heidi Owens, who lives in the Hough neighborhood just blocks from Open House. “They’re looking at ‘what are the needs of the people we serve and how do we approach those?’ ”

Owens, who uses Open House’s bike shop and shops at its thrift store, sees the positive impact on the neighborhood.

“They see the whole community as part of their community,” she said.

Hiedi Lee, who has a business in downtown Vancouver and used to live in the Esther Short neighborhood, said she’s had nothing but positive interactions with Open House Ministries and donates to the nonprofit. A representative or resident from Open House attends most of the Esther Short neighborhood association meetings, Lee said.

Expanded services

Stevens said having extra space will allow Open House to open up programs to more people than just the residents who stay at the shelter. Community Services Northwest will have a space at the center, there’s a GED program, and churches have offered to do services there.

Open House Ministries

A few other nonprofits around Vancouver have construction projects underway.

• CDM Caregiving Services broke ground on its new home, called McKibbin Center, on July 28, an event that was seven years in the making. The facility, which is named after community leader and CDM Aging with Dignity Capital Campaign member John McKibbin, will have an adult day center. It will open sometime next spring.

• Clark County Adventist Community Services, which operates one of the largest food pantries in Clark County, is moving to the former Red Cross building in central Vancouver. The nonprofit operated by the Vancouver Seventh-Day Adventist church has to complete renovations before opening next year.

• The Bridgeview Education and Employment Resource Center will take about 10 months to complete, so it'll be done next summer. The center is in the middle of Vancouver Housing Authority's Skyline Crest housing complex and will share a wall with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington's Heights O.K. 2 Clubhouse. The resource center aims to be a one-stop shop for services and supports that low-income households may otherwise have to zigzag across the county to access.

“There is just a negative idea of what homelessness looks like, and there are so many cultures of homelessness,” Stevens said. “Right now, the visible homelessness that we see is pretty high need, high barrier folks who are on the streets.”

That’s not who Open House Ministries serves; the faith-based nonprofit’s focus is families and women. There is a months-long waitlist for its intensive programming that involves classes and job training.

“We’re serving families who, yes, they’re sleeping in their car with their kids, they’ve lost a job, they’ve been evicted, they’re being locked out. Yes, they don’t have a roof over their heads, but they want one. And they want to strive for that and they want to be able to sustain it, but they don’t know how,” Steven said. “To me, it’s just a different culture of homelessness that we’re dealing with.”

Estrada wants to keep clean and focus on being a good mother — something that at one point she didn’t believe she could become.

“They’ve opened up my eyes to know that life doesn’t have to be so negative,” said Estrada who, despite being a single mother, does not feel alone in her journey. “I’ve got Open House. I’ve got my family. I’ve got friends, and I just never opened my eyes to it till now. … I’m accepting help. I’m not Super Woman. I can’t do everything on my own. That’s why there are places like here, made to help us get on our feet.”

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; twitter.com/pattyhastings; patty.hastings@columbian.com

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith