Families and single women who need to use the Share Homestead shelter in Hazel Dell will find it more welcoming than ever.
The facility has undergone a major renovation that allows for additional capacity, private bathrooms and many general updates throughout.
Homestead, built in 1994 and operated by Share since 1996, can accommodate up to 86 people instead of the 50 prior to renovations. It is currently operating at half-capacity due to COVID-19.
After a complete gutting of the interior, there are now 13 rooms for families, one room for four single women and two respite rooms for anyone who might be coming out of the hospital with a referral for special accommodations.
“It had been so many years since it was remodeled that it was fantastic in that they moved some things around completely,” said Jessica Lightheart, the community relations director at Share. “But the whole goal was to make the shelter more beneficial to family life and create some new spaces.”
Residents are allowed to stay at Homestead for up to two years, so comfort and space is a must.
Known renovation costs are just over $950,000 with some figures still being finalized. The city of Vancouver Affordable Housing Fund and Washington Housing Preservation Program helped finance the project, said Roy Johnson, executive director of the Vancouver Housing Authority, which owns Homestead. Other financial sources included a Clark County Community Development block grant and the KMR Group Foundation.
Homestead and Orchards Inn, which underwest $1.1 million in renovations last year, are designed to assist families and single adults living in those shelters with the process of transitioning into permanent housing, said Nicky Ferguson, newly appointed director at Homestead.
Ferguson pointed out that the shelter is also helping residents remove and overcome barriers such as debt, obtaining identification, opening a savings account, learning to budget, applying for state and federal assistance, accessing the web, learning computer skills, and writing resumes.
“We are listening and engaging in a way that lets our clients know they are not alone, they matter, they are important members in our community,” Ferguson said.
Lightheart explained that one of the big things with the renovation was putting in private bathrooms. It was previously a dorm-style setup with stalls, sinks and showers in the back.
“Now someone can be in a private bathroom without other people coming in and out,” she said. “Bathrooms was the big issue because of families and for anyone who’s transgender. It’s just greater privacy. What’s hard is living in a shelter … it’s communal in so many ways.
“Versus the old ones that had so much big communal space, being able to scale some of those down so that the families actually have more of a space to be together as a family unit.”
The kitchen received a major upgrade including all new commercial appliances, additional refrigerator and freezer units and expanded pantry space.
An indoor children’s play area is stocked with donated toys and books, and there’s an outdoor play area as well for when it’s nicer to be outside.
One drawback due to the pandemic is that there are no volunteers to help at the shelter. But adjustments have been made.
“It’s unfortunate because volunteers provided art classes, learning opportunities, and fun activities for our kiddos,” Ferguson said. “As a result, our parents received lots of parenting support and were able to build relationships with other adults who could help them navigate challenges, offer parenting tips, or act as a mentor when clients asked or wanted that help.”
While the renovations took place at Homestead and the Orchards Inn, residents were moved to apartments. Lightheart said the majority of those residents were able to find permanent housing during the renovations and didn’t need to return to the shelters.
“Which is great. … The success of living on your own,” Lightheart said.
Ferguson said the best way to help right now is through donations.
“When clients move out, we often put in requests for things needed like cookware, bedding, furniture items, and other household necessities,” she said. “There are so many ways that we help families both while they are in shelter with us and during their process of transitioning to permanent housing.”
Share has set up an Amazon wish list that people can donate from, and Lightheart said the shopping does not have to be through Amazon. Financial donations are also welcome. Information can be found at sharevancouver.org.