The complexities of Clark County’s homeless issue require creativity as well as diligence on the part of citizens and local governments. And while there are no simple solutions, a local Go Connect SafePark program deserves some attention.
Started in May by David Bilby, the program works with five local churches to allow homeless citizens to use their parking lots overnight. Go Connect is not a cure for the area’s homeless crisis; it’s barely even a Band-Aid. But it does represent a small, personal effort to lend a little dignity and security for people who are struggling. As Bilby told The Columbian: “I get that a lot — ‘You’re not really helping people. They’re still homeless.’ … Well, we’re doing what we can do. It’s a biblical mandate to love our neighbor as ourself.”
That effectively articulates the mission facing local residents and government leaders. Regardless of the circumstances that led somebody to become homeless, a humane society has a moral duty to provide assistance where it can.
In connecting citizens with welcoming parking lots, Go Connect is addressing an often overlooked segment of the homeless population. Citizens who are left to sleep in parks or public spaces or those who push their belongings in shopping carts are readily visible. They also can be troublesome for residents or businesses near where the homeless congregate, often leaving behind garbage, human waste, or signs of drug activity. It is easy to drive past freeway underpasses or near the downtown core and point out homeless people.
But many who don’t have a roof over their heads are living in vehicles, being left to seek out a safe parking space on a nightly basis and often being rendered invisible to the general populace. Go Connect’s SafePark program vets clients through background checks before issuing a parking permit, and clients agree to a code of conduct and work on an “action plan” for transitioning into stable housing.
Bilby hopes to enlist more churches in the program, but there are some roadblocks, as neighbors might be reluctant to have an overnight lot for homeless people pop up next door. Concerns about possible crime or troublesome activity are understandable, yet any church willing to provide assistance will help mitigate a pressing problem.
With rent prices at or near record highs throughout Clark County and with extremely low vacancy rates, the issue of homelessness cannot be ignored. Insisting that homeless people should simply go elsewhere does not put a roof over their heads, and an attitude of “out of sight, out of mind” merely relocates the problem.
Vancouver residents have demonstrated a willingness to address the issue rather than ignore it. In 2016, voters passed a tax measure to raise funds for the development and preservation of affordable housing, and city leaders long have given much attention to the crisis.
But with the area remaining attractive for new residents and with housing availability remaining tight, the need for creative solutions is imperative. As Jack Harroun, a local contractor, told The Columbian: “If your population is going to double in the next 29 years, the people have to go somewhere. Either we keep doing what we’ve done, or we get innovative.”
That should be a mantra that guides local leaders in 2018. Numerous programs large and small, born of compassion, are addressing the issue of homelessness. Hopefully, they can morph into large ideas that have a lasting impact on our community.