Thursday, May 26, 2022
May 26, 2022

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Vancouver Mall parking camp opens for people living in vehicles

First sign-up day saw 10 of 40 spaces claimed

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
Car campers park their vehicles with space between them as they take refuge during the COVID-19 crisis at Vancouver Mall on Thursday. It was the first day officials were registering vehicles on a first-come, first-served basis to park at the mall. Participants have access to portable toilets and hand-washing stations.
Car campers park their vehicles with space between them as they take refuge during the COVID-19 crisis at Vancouver Mall on Thursday. It was the first day officials were registering vehicles on a first-come, first-served basis to park at the mall. Participants have access to portable toilets and hand-washing stations. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Gerhard Bush-Tschosik found out that a site at Vancouver Mall would start offering free, protected 24-hour parking for people living in their vehicles, he showed up the night before to make sure he’d get a spot.

The 27-year-old Vancouver resident has been living in his van with his 1-year-old pit bull mix, Reece, for more than a year. But since the COVID-19 outbreak forced businesses and public facilities to close across the state, he’s been finding himself with fewer and fewer places to go.

He had parked at Walmart for a while, but the store is not open all night anymore, he said. He parked his van outside his old workplace for a little bit. There just aren’t many resources left. It’s hard to navigate an era of self-isolation, Bush-Tschosik said, even for a natural introvert like himself.

“It’s hard to find a spot to even go to the bathroom,” Bush-Tschosik said, speaking through a crack in the door of his van Thursday morning. Reece, wiggly and wagging, was trying to scramble over his lap and out of the van.

He was among the first people to register for the new safe-park program, being managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department at the mall. The free resource is designed for people who are trying to self-quarantine, but don’t have a place to go — those who live in their cars and just need a place to park them.

How to get one of spaces left

Registration for the safe-parking program at Vancouver Mall for people living in their vehicles will continue from 10 a.m. to noon today.

Thirty slots remain. Parking passes are free and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

To receive a parking pass, participants must register in person and have an operational and legally licensed vehicle.

Each vehicle may contain no more than two adults. Children under 18 are allowed when accompanied by an adult. Pets are also allowed, although leash and cleanup laws will be enforced, and no pet waste bags will be provided.

Participants will be required to sign a code of conduct agreeing to leave the premises only for necessary errands, and to maintain 6 feet of personal space when outside their vehicles in accordance with social distancing recommendations.

The site is at the southeast corner of the parking lot at 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, near the C-Tran transit center.
— Calley Hair

Where else is safe parking?

Those staying in church parking lots under nonprofit Go Connect’s SafePark program are adjusting to new procedures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

David Bilby, who heads the program, said churches are working to spread out guests at its 11 sites. Council for the Homeless also gave some program participants vouchers to stay in motels.
“Which is way better for them,” Bilby said.

Most SafePark churches are now allowing guests to stay all day rather than just overnight. Guests are still encouraged to leave occasionally to access services and get exercise. SafePark also slowed its intake.

“We’re only taking highly vulnerable guests at this point,” Bilby said.

Currently, 52 people are staying in 36 cars at church parking lots around Clark County. Since SafePark was piloted in 2014, it’s received 972 referrals from Council for the Homeless.
— Patty Hastings

Another participant, who asked not to be named, said he became homeless in January when a rent hike made his apartment unaffordable. He’d just been settling into a routine when the coronavirus outbreak upended most of the resources he had started to rely upon.

“This just happened, and so now I have to learn how to do things. You can go on the web and find out how to live in your vehicle,” he said. “I haven’t taken a shower in, like, a month.”

A place to quarantine

City staff spent the morning cordoning off the area in the southwest corner of the complex’s parking lot with signs and rope; social distancing protocol means that cars need at least one vacant spot between them.

Three portable toilets had been shipped in earlier in the week, along with two hand-washing stations, a dumpster and a few extra garbage cans.

The site can accept 40 vehicles, including up to two recreational vehicles, on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration was held Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon and will continue today during the same window.

By the time registration closed on Thursday, 10 of the 40 slots had been filled.

Most of the occupants were familiar faces, said Dave Perlick, recreation manager for Vancouver Parks and Recreation — he recognized them as regulars at the Navigation Center, a local day shelter for people without homes. That facility has remained closed since March 19.

The mall, which also went dark on March 19, offered the space to the city for free for the duration of Gov. Jay Inslee’s shelter-in-place order, now extended through May 4.

“We really appreciate the Vancouver Mall,” Perlick said. “We’re committed to managing the site well.”

There are some limitations. There’s nowhere for people to shower or do their laundry. But these are unprecedented times, Perlick said, and the focus is on alleviating some of the most urgent gaps in resources.

“Let’s do this really well, and demonstrate that it meets the needs of folks,” he said.

9 Photos
Gerhard Bush-Tschosik of Vancouver shares a kiss with his pit bull mix, Reece, 1, after securing their parking spot at Vancouver Mall on Thursday morning, April 2, 2020. Officials registered car campers vehicles on a first-come, first serve basis starting Thursday.
Car Camping at Vancouver Mall during COVID-19 Crisis Photo Gallery

Mall security officers will continue to monitor the site, as will staff from Phoenix Protective Corporation, the contractor that usually provides security at the Navigation Center. The Vancouver Police Department will also patrol more frequently, Perlick added.

He emphasized that this is not a place where people should expect to come and go. The whole point is to park and stay inside your vehicle. It’s a place to quarantine, just like a home would be.

“If you have somewhere else to be at night, we ask that you don’t participate in this program,” Perlick said.

People want to help

By 10:30 a.m. Thursday, three people had visited the site asking how they could help. Some offered food, and another donated a roll of pet waste bags, Perlick said.

Perlick said he understood the impulse. But he asked Samaritans to hold off on delivering goods and other aid directly to the parking site. His team is planning to coordinate with the Clark County Food Bank to find ways to safely provide food to the people sheltering-in-place.

“We know the community wants to help. We appreciate that,” Perlick said. “But we would ask anyone who’s interested in donations to contact Parks and Rec. Don’t just come down to the site, because we really want to make sure that we take social distancing seriously.”

Columbian staff writer

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