After a summer hiatus, Share House’s kitchen reopened Monday, and it’s once again serving hot meals for Vancouver’s homeless community — this time in a cleaner, brighter space.
The downtown men’s homeless shelter closed July 9 to remodel its ground-floor kitchen and bathrooms. Improvements included replacing the floors, walls, bathrooms stalls and updating the lighting.
“It looks a lot better than it did,” said Ray Vanderslice, who ate lunch at the shelter Wednesday. By 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, a half-hour after opening its doors for the meal, about 100 people came through for lunch.
Vanderslice, who is homeless, said it wasn’t too difficult to get fed while the kitchen was closed. Many grass-roots groups give out food to people living in the blocks surrounding Share House, and Vanderslice said he also got food from nearby food pantry FISH of Vancouver.
While the kitchen and bathrooms were closed, Share moved the hot meals program to its day center about a mile away and served brown-bag meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Vanderslice said it was too far away for him to walk there.
Lisa Clevenger said she made the trek to the day center “quite a few times.” She’s been homeless 17 years and visits Share House for nearly every meal.
“It doesn’t look much different,” she said of the remodeled kitchen.
Still, she’s glad to be eating in the cafeteria again. She said during the closure, she ate a lot of processed food that wasn’t good for her. Also, she likes that the updated bathrooms are clean, but dislikes the sink and its lack of counter space.
Katie Louis, Share House director, said Share installed larger sinks in its ground-floor restrooms to help people who were already using them to bathe.
The bathrooms and kitchen have new fiberglass-reinforced plastic walls that are easy to clean. The walls also got a new coat of epoxy paint, which Louis said doesn’t absorb smells as much as regular paint. The floors are also made out of epoxy, a grippy material typically used in industrial settings that is sturdy and easy to clean. A janitor’s closet was also redone, new shelving and kitchen fixtures were installed, and Share bought a new kettle for making soup. Energy-efficient LED lights were installed along the ceiling.
“Before, it seemed kind of dingy and dark. The new lighting brightened it up,” said Holley Walhood, food service coordinator for Share. “Everything is so clean and fresh and bright now.”
She’s worked for almost 11 years at Share and made do with the run-down kitchen. The kitchen hadn’t been updated since 1999, when the shelter was built. (A fire damaged the original shelter built in 1996.)
“I’m so incredibly beyond words thankful for everyone who donated money to have this done,” Walhood said. “I could just cry. It was no small feat.”
The $120,000 project was funded through private donations.
Louis said the closure gave volunteers and staff a chance to deep clean everything.
The remodel took a few weeks longer than the expected eight weeks. Louis said it was difficult coordinating subcontractors and issues cropped up as the project moved along. There were electrical problems, and the freezer is still broken. The building’s elevator broke, creating a problem around how to get the kitchen equipment that was stored on the third floor back down to the kitchen once it was ready to reopen.
Share made a call for volunteers, and Northwest Personal Training decided to do its Saturday morning workout at Share House, hauling boxes and kitchen gadgets downstairs. Louis said she’s still waiting on a new stainless steel salad bar.
During the summer, Share House struggled with sanitation issues while the kitchen and ground-floor restrooms were closed. (Residents could still use the showers and restrooms on other floors.)
Although the water was shut off to the ground floor and the entrance was barricaded, people came in to relieve themselves. People defecated in the unusable restrooms and a ground-floor office, and there were overall more problems with fecal matter on and around the property after the remodel began.
Louis said Talkin’ Trash, a cleanup crew, cleans around Share House every morning and sanitizes the area once a week. Several city departments clean the streets. Share staff also talked with clients about going to other nearby restrooms, including port-a-potties set up at the day center. (There are public restrooms at Esther Short Park, and Starbucks announced earlier this year that anybody can use its restrooms even if they hadn’t made a purchase.)
Besides the physical benefits of having a revamped space, Louis said the remodel is a way to show clients that they value them and their experience at Share House. There’s more work left to be done on the 10,400-square-foot building.
Earlier this summer, Share also applied for $180,000 from Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund to update Share House’s ventilation and mechanical systems, as well as the restrooms and showers used by its residents. The city’s money would be used to address deferred maintenance and make improvements to the building.
One major issue is the plumbing system.
Last year sewage backed up, prompting Share to stop allowing nonresidents to shower at the facility or use the restrooms outside of meal times. Another nonprofit, Food With Friends, started operating a shower trailer that is hauled to various service agencies around town.
“We’re trying everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Louis said.
Share House’s hot meals program prepares nearly 92,000 meals annually.
Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; twitter.com/pattyhastings; email@example.com