A joint policy advisory group on homelessness recently approved by the Clark County Council and Vancouver City Council could meet for the first time next month.
Collaborating to address homelessness and its impacts is the aim of the advisory group, although the county is the lead agency. The group was a long time coming, with discussions about creating such a group happening in summer of 2019.
“Establishing this policy group is a much-needed step in the right direction on the issue of homelessness in our community,” Interim County Manager Kathleen Otto said in a news release. “I’m confident that working together with our partners at the city is the best approach to develop strategies to fight the devastating problem of homelessness in Clark County.”
The memorandum of agreement between the two jurisdictions points to statements about homelessness made in 1989 that remain true today. “Homelessness is a serious problem in Clark County, the number of people experiencing homelessness is increasing, and the capacity of the current system to house and meet the basic needs of those who are experiencing homelessness is inadequate,” it reads. “No single governmental jurisdiction or entity could resolve the problem of homelessness. Homelessness … cannot be effectively addressed by isolated or fragmented efforts.”
Discussions about addiction, mental illness and other root causes of housing instability are to be a focus of the group.
The group consists of two elected officials from each jurisdiction along with the county manager and city manager or their designees. Over time, the group would grow to include other public agencies, local governments, nonprofits and people who have experienced homelessness. It plans to work with local service providers as well. However, the agreement for the group “does not contemplate a formal relationship” with the Continuum of Care or its steering committee, or the Clark County Homeless Action Plan and Council for the Homeless.
Peter Fels, a retired attorney and homeless advocate, sent a letter to city and county leaders saying the agreement leaves out general public participation and input.
“Since disbanding of the Homeless Ideas Group, there has been no vehicle for public input or participation in homeless programs. You should be aware by now that even when governments identify ‘stakeholders’ and seek input from them, many other citizens feel left out and are unhappy with the process,” Fels wrote.
Vancouver’s Homeless Ideas Group, which was a discussion and training group rather than a policy advisory group, disbanded after Jackie St. Louis stepped down as the city’s homeless resource manager.