Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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Vancouver Navigation Center ready to connect homeless with services

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
6 Photos
Carol Rochat looks through a window into an unfinished room while touring the Vancouver Navigation Center on Grand Boulevard in Vancouver. The day center takes up about 5,000 square feet and the remaining unused space in the large building could be occupied in the future by other service providers.
Carol Rochat looks through a window into an unfinished room while touring the Vancouver Navigation Center on Grand Boulevard in Vancouver. The day center takes up about 5,000 square feet and the remaining unused space in the large building could be occupied in the future by other service providers. Photos by Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

The Vancouver Navigation Center will open soon, offering a space for homeless people to hang out and access services.

To celebrate, the city held a grand opening Wednesday afternoon and offered tours of the central Vancouver facility, a former state Department of Fish and Wildlife building. It’s a big, bright space with laundry, shower and restroom facilities as well as offices.

Instafab, a Vancouver steel fabrication and installation firm, is designing storage containers that will be big enough to fit a shopping cart. The Humane Society for Southwest Washington is providing kennels for pets.

“This facility will offer vital resources to people who face the daily struggles and challenges of homelessness,” Terry Toland, a Share board member, said to the crowd that gathered at Wednesday’s event.

Vancouver-based nonprofit homeless service provider Share will run the day center from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily beginning Monday. Clients enter through a gate in a fence surrounding the property. The center’s $400,000 annual operating cost is funded by the city, Clark County, Vancouver Housing Authority and C.E. John.

Olivia Resnick, who oversees outreach and Housing First programs for Share, will oversee the day center and its employees. She said there will typically be at least three people working at any given time, including a housing navigator whose job it will be to help people find housing. While the focus is to get people housed and linked to other resources and gainful employment, the day center is meant to be a safe, comfortable place to be — even if people aren’t ready to connect to services.

“As long as we’re a welcoming space, then we’re doing a good job,” she said.

Similar to the old day center in west Vancouver, there will be a rotating cadre of groups providing classes in life skills, wellness and art. Share will be tracking how many people visit the day center and are connected to services.

Neighborhood concerns

Resnick encourages community members to volunteer at the day center to “combat hesitation and fears.” Surrounding residents and businesses expressed concerns during public hearings, and in January the Maplewood and Rose Village neighborhood associations appealed the city’s decision to use 2018 Grand Blvd. as a day center.

The appeal alleged that the city’s application was improperly filed and that the hearings examiner, who had approved the site use, failed to consider arguments made by neighborhood representatives during the public hearing process. The appeal was rejected by the hearings examiner and the city.

Peggy Sheehan, the city’s community and economic development programs manager, doesn’t view the appeal as an obstacle to opening the center.

“It’s all part of the process,” she said. “It’s important for the city to work with the community.”

She said the city will continue meeting monthly and collaborating with the surrounding neighborhoods through its good neighbor commitment, a document finalized Wednesday that outlines how the city will address concerns. Sheehan added that the security officers who patrol other city buildings will include the Navigation Center in their evening rounds.

Building upgrade

The property’s exterior got upgraded lighting, landscaping, a new alarm system and a fence that extends to the sidewalk. (This blocks the strip of land between the sidewalk and the building to discourage camping, which is not allowed at the center.)

Talkin’ Trash, a crew of homeless and formerly homeless people who clean up trash around the city, will operate out of the facility. Vancouver police will also have space they can use.

The city used a $145,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, $25,000 from the BNSF Railway Foundation and approximately $180,000 in general fund money for exterior renovations.

Josh Walker, project manager with James E. John, said the construction total for the inside of the building was $483,000. The company is under the umbrella of C.E. John, which pledged $150,000 for renovations and an additional $30,000 annually for the next five years to help fund operational costs. The Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund donated $300,000, and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund gave $50,000 toward labor and materials.

“We basically did this budget as the design was evolving,” Walker said.

Built to last

Walker said his team had to consider what materials to use to make the space last with repeated wear and tear while keeping within the budget. Most of the work was in the bathroom and laundry space, which used to be a conference room. Construction began in mid-August and wrapped up Tuesday.

“It turned out as well as we could have imagined,” said Michael Parshall, principal with Woodblock Architecture, a Portland architectural firm that offered its services. “It’s really an example of what can happen when everyone partners together.”

The day center takes up about 5,000 square feet of the 26,578-square-foot building. Other nonprofits and service providers, including Community Services Northwest and Council for the Homeless, are interested in using the remaining space.

“Throughout the winter, we’ll be engaging the community as well as additional nonprofit homeless service providers to determine the best mix of services in the building as we move forward,” Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said during the grand opening.

She said the day center will be an option for providing overnight shelter during severe winter weather, though the funding for that has not been secured.

In 2016, the city began searching for a building to replace the day center at Friends of the Carpenter, which was deemed to not be a viable long-term host. Executive Director Tom Iberle said he’s not sure who will occupy the space in the future after the day center closes Sunday, but there are several interested groups.

Last year the day center assisted 952 people. Of those, 160 got help with employment and 102 were helped in finding housing.

“Even in that small space we were able to serve a lot of people,” Sheehan said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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