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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Dec. 6, 2023

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County’s 3-year plan to help homeless takes shape

Draft prioritizes needs; county must approve proposals

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
2 Photos
A cart with tools and belongings sits on the street’s edge outside Share House in Vancouver. A new three-year plan will help local officials decide how to spend money available to help homeless people.
A cart with tools and belongings sits on the street’s edge outside Share House in Vancouver. A new three-year plan will help local officials decide how to spend money available to help homeless people. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian files Photo Gallery

A lot has changed since Clark County last updated its Homeless Action Plan four years ago.

“We’re in a very different place today than we were in 2014,” said Kate Budd, executive director of Vancouver-based nonprofit Council for the Homeless. “Rents were still relatively low. We hadn’t seen the extreme variations that we’re seeing now. We also didn’t see the number of people experiencing homelessness and living on the streets as we do now.”

Also, the county now has more money to distribute in response to the homeless crisis due to the recent increase in document recording fees, a major source of homeless service funding that will yield roughly an additional $1 million to $1.5 million annually, as well as Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund, a levy taxpayers approved two years ago that sets aside some money for shelters. Spending those additional dollars is wrapped into the 2019-2022 Homeless Action Plan that the Council for the Homeless began working on in June.

“It does give us an opportunity to increase capacity of the system, which is exciting because in 2014 we had actually seen a decrease in the overall funds because of the Great Recession,” Budd said during an interview with The Columbian. However, she added, it’s not enough money to do everything the community desires to address homelessness. “The greatest restraint for this plan unfortunately is dollars. Without increased dollars all of these action items likely won’t occur, though we’ll certainly work hard and also look to outside funding sources. There are amazingly generous philanthropists as well as public and private grant opportunities that we will pursue to work toward these goals.”

The Homeless Action Plan, a requirement of the state Department of Commerce, guides the disbursement of government funds, namely from Vancouver, Clark County, Vancouver Housing Authority and Council for the Homeless, which receive a mix of state, federal and local money.

2019-2022 Homeless Action Plan recommendations by the numbers

293 new permanent housing placements

96 additional interim and transitional housing units

25percent decrease in people who are chronically homeless

50 more emergency shelter beds

24 more sanctioned parking spots

20 additional youth-appropriate housing options

10percent decrease in newly homeless households

10 new transitional housing units for domestic violence survivors

10percent annual increase in households housed by outreach teams

8 more outreach workers

1 outreach worker as a liaison for law enforcement, libraries and other entities

“As the dollars grow, the need for this collaborative path is even stronger,” Budd said. “It also helps to illustrate where to make the investment within the system that will have the most impact on the performance measures that our funders are paying attention to.”

For instance, rapid rehousing, an intervention where people are quickly placed into housing and given rental assistance for up to two years, costs about $25 per day and had an 82 percent success rate last year in Clark County. On the other hand, emergency shelter costs $62 daily and 73 percent of people in shelters returned to homelessness last year. At 16 percent, Clark County’s overall return to homelessness rate is higher than the national rate, and the average stretch of time people are homeless (48 days) is higher than the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s goal of 30 days.

“The reality is we continue to make changes within the system, and proposals within this action plan are made in order to help us move these outcomes in the correct direction. Should we continue to go in the wrong direction, it could place our state and federal funding in jeopardy,” Budd told the Clark County Council during an Oct. 10th workshop attended by councilors Jeanne Stewart, Eileen Quiring and Julie Olson.

The county council has to adopt the plan, ideally before the year’s end. Council for the Homeless held several community forums and collected surveys from community members, service providers and people experiencing homelessness to help draft the plan. The overall message was that people want to live in a place that helps move homeless people into housing. Survey respondents prioritized families, veterans, youth and people who are chronically homeless.

As it is, Budd said, the system doesn’t have the capacity to serve everyone who needs help, so the priorities help focus where money should go. Last year, 40 percent of people who sought emergency shelter through the Housing Hotline got it, and 10 percent of people seeking a place to live got housing.

Stewart stressed the importance of interventions that help people be successful.

“The public as a whole is beginning to lose patience about the homeless. A lot of that loss of patience is based on activity of the homeless themselves,” Stewart said. “So, if we are talking about spending, re-creating, asking for more, asking for new funding, people want that assurance. … They want to know there’s a success rate and that it’s not just a cycle of them being taxed and no progress being made in the problem.”

Some aspects of solving homelessness are outside the scope of the Homeless Action Plan, such as creating more housing and living-wage jobs or improving behavioral and physical health.

Policy recommendations attached to the plan address some of these strategies. Quiring was critical of policies that cost money and said she would like to see the policy recommendations removed from the plan and reserved for a separate discussion.

“Increasing funding for every one of these things increases the cost of housing because it comes from the public,” Quiring said. “I get calls from people all of the time that they’re being taxed out of their homes. … Every time you increase funding that affects everybody who’s paying for it. You can say ‘it’s just a little amount,’ but that little amount has to be recouped for somebody that has property that you rent.”

Some of the policy recommendations, which Budd said came from community members, include supporting businesses offering second-chance employment, convening an affordable housing task force, allowing the consideration of rent controlled units and supporting more effective planning for people being released from jails, hospitals and other systems of care.

Ways to measure success

Reduction in the average shelter stay or length of homelessness

More exits from shelter or transitional housing to permanent housing

Fewer people participating in services return to homelessness

“I don’t think the policy recommendations would preclude us from adopting the plan. They’re recommendations,” Olson said.

Budd said she would bring drafts with and without the policy recommendations whenever the council is ready to adopt the plan.

“These conversations are not easy because it’s hard to get to a solution that people can see,” Olson said.

If anything, Budd said, the Homeless Action Plan shows the importance of data and sharing that with the community so people know what’s being done within the homeless crisis response system, what works well and what doesn’t. Many of the things people think should be happening are already happening, she said.

“There are community members who feel like nothing is happening based on their observations, and it’s much to the contrary,” Budd said during an interview with The Columbian.

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