At the end of the week, homelessness nonprofit Share is ceasing management of Vancouver’s Navigation Center.
Share’s departure leaves the day center for the homeless in the hands of the city’s parks and recreation department, which has added staff to cover day-to-day operations as leaders continue the search for a replacement operator.
“We have been in the process of hiring staff for a few weeks and also offered the opportunity to work at the Navigation Center to other staff within our department,” Julie Hannon, director of Vancouver Parks and Recreation, wrote in an email to The Columbian.
In preparation for Share’s departure, Hannon’s team hired five new people and pulled two other staff members from other areas in the department. She said the goal is to have four to six people on shift from when the day center opens at 7 a.m. to when it closes at 5 p.m.
They’re aiming to minimize the impact of the operator switch on the clients — the 99 people per day, on average, who rely on the center for such basic services as laundry, showers and a safe place to rest.
“At this point, once Feb. 1 arrives, the day-to-day operations: showers, laundry, clothing and general operations of the Navigation Center will be pretty much business as usual. All outside current service providers will continue to serve the clients,” Hannon wrote.
It’s not a permanent solution. When Share announced on Nov. 1 that it would be ceasing its role at the Navigation Center after about 15 months at the helm, city leaders said they planned to put out a request for proposals to find a new operator. That request for proposals opened on Dec. 19 and closes Wednesday; as of Monday, it hadn’t received any responses.
Complicating the situation is the departure of Jackie St. Louis, Vancouver’s first homeless resources manager. St. Louis announced last week that he’d be resigning from his position after six months on the job, citing difficulties relocating his family from Seattle.
St. Louis’ last day will be Feb. 14, just two weeks after the Navigation Center is left without a permanent operator.
Still seeking operators
The lack of formal responses to the request for proposals doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of interest from regional organizations in taking over the Navigation Center. Carol Bua, Vancouver’s communications director, said six organizations participated in a recent on-site tour mandatory for parties to apply.
That list included: XChange Recovery, a Battle Ground addiction recovery program; the Vancouver corps of the Salvation Army; Love Overwhelming, a Longview housing shelter; Vancouver’s Living Hope Church; the Mental Health Association in Portland; and Do Good, a veterans shelter.
Interest level in actually taking over the Navigation Center varies from group to group.
“I would say we’re leaning not to,” said Brian Norris, pastor at Living Hope Church. His organization is more interested in providing overnight winter shelter to people experiencing homelessness — the Navigation Center, as of right now, is exclusively a day center.
“If, say, a partner took over that,” Norris added, “then we would maybe chat with them.”
Some are still aiming to make the Wednesday deadline. Steve Rusk, community relations and development director with the Salvation Army, said the organization has every intention of applying to become the primary operator.
“We successfully operate day centers and shelters in Seattle, Spokane, Bremerton and other communities around the state,” Rusk said. “We believe that there’s a gap that needs to be filled, and it has been our local practice to step in and fill the gap when it arises.”