Open House Ministries takes up an entire block on downtown Vancouver’s west edge and recently took steps to expand its footprint.
The faith-based nonprofit serving homeless families and women was given two properties across the street, at the northwest corner of West 12th and Jefferson streets. The houses on those properties were demolished and will eventually make way for housing for graduates of Open House’s shelter program, but for now the lot will solve a more simple problem.
Open House packs a lot into what its executive director Renee Stevens has called “the God block.” There’s the family shelter, Second Hand Solutions Thrift Store and Wheel Deals, a bicycle shop that benefits the nonprofit, and the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Family Resource Center, which opened about one year ago.
On-street parking around the shelter used to be free and unregulated until 2016. Now, there’s a mix of permit parking, paid parking that costs $1.25 hourly and 10-hour parking that Stevens said is often occupied by attorneys going to the nearby Clark County Courthouse.
“Parking is a huge issue for our staff and our volunteers right now,” Stevens said.
Open House has 29 employees, a mix of full- and part-time workers, and a couple hundred volunteers. On any given day, she estimates, there are 15 or so volunteers on site. By the end of the year, the shelter will be able to accommodate 40 families and four single women.
There are two parking lots on Open House’s property, one with 17 spaces in front of the retail stores and another with 15 spaces and a bicycle locker next to the shelter. Stevens said the former is meant for customers, and the latter is used by volunteers and customers during the day.
She said residents and staff can’t afford parking permits. Rates increased in April. According to the city, aside from the monthly $60 permits, there are parking zones that cost $20 monthly for downtown employees making $20 or less per hour. One of those zones includes the area encompassing Open House Ministries and Share House, the men’s homeless shelter.
In 2016, when the parking makeup changed, the city of Vancouver began providing nine on-street parking permits to Open House at no cost, and the nonprofit pays for another 13 permits at the monthly $60 rate, said Parking Manager Steve Kaspan.
“The free permits were never intended to be permanent and were provided to give OHM time to adapt to the new situation,” Kaspan said in an email, adding that the free permit policy will be reviewed at the end of this year. “Therefore, I think that it is prudent that OHM park their tenants on their property if at all possible.”
Stevens said turning its new property at 12th and Jefferson streets into a gravel parking lot will provide some “breathing room” while Open House Ministries figures out next steps to address parking.
According to property records, both homes — one gray, the other blue — were owned by Jeremy and Sara Rolling and sold in July 2018 for $550,000. They were both used as rental units. A family lived in the gray house and were rehoused. There were 10 extremely low-income people staying in the blue house; eight of them found housing.
“We worked with them for months,” Stevens said, adding that the blue house was not suitable for living. “There were people who needed to live there. That’s what I’ll say.”
Stevens said she wants Open House have a positive impact in the homeless community, which is why she’d eventually like to build housing for people graduating from her nonprofit’s intensive shelter program.
“This way they can actually transition,” she said. “It’s not going to stay parking.”
Often, those who are ready to leave Open House can’t find a place in the private market that they can afford, so they stay at the shelter a bit longer.
In a couple of years, the need in the community might be something completely different, and Open House may have to shift gears.
Stevens said they’re “really just praying about what does this community need and how can we satisfy that need?”