“My concern, though, is where do we go with the day center from here? We’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into it,” Councilor Bart Hansen said. “I would hope we would focus on where we could put a day center.”
Councilor Sarah Fox agreed, emphasizing that any money from selling the building should be carefully earmarked for a future facility. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle pointed out that the immediate need for showers, laundry and restrooms for unhoused people hadn’t vanished, even if the building isn’t currently operational.
Other councilors argued the Navigation Center’s original operating plan – open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. – wasn’t ideal, and they should take this opportunity to pivot to a full-time shelter.
“I am very cautious about us continuing to talk about something called a ‘day center,’ ” Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover countered. “When you gather people together with nowhere to go at 5 o’ clock, it’s not a successful model.”
Councilor Laurie Lebowsky echoed Glover’s concern.
“My understanding is the ones that are successful are open 24 hours a day,” Lebowsky said.
Short, unsteady history
The city purchased the Navigation Center facility, located at 2018 Grand Blvd. in central Vancouver, for $4.3 million drawn from the general fund and Community Development Block Grants.
It opened in November 2018. On providing immediate, daily services to people experiencing homelessness, the Navigation Center proved extremely successful – it blew past its original target of assisting at least 300 people in its first year, providing aid to more than 1,400 in six months.
But the center was also beleaguered by administrative problems, and caused issues for residents and businesses in surrounding neighborhoods.
The Vancouver Police Department reported that calls for service more than doubled within a quarter-mile radius of the center. The shelter’s operator, local homelessness nonprofit Share, ended its contract with the city soon after councilors expressed some frustration with how the facility was being run. The city’s first and only homelessness services director resigned after six months on the job.
By the time COVID-19 forced the Navigation Center to close, Vancouver was still searching for a third-party administrator to handle the day-to-day operations. Parks and recreation staff had been running the center for several months in the interim.
A few library employees have been working out the Navigation Center building since mid-December. A pipe had burst at the FVRL’s existing headquarters at the corner of East Mill Plain Boulevard and Fort Vancouver Way, flooding the building’s lower level with several feet of water.
Tak Kendrick, the library’s communications and marketing director, previously told The Columbian that staff has been using around 3,000 square feet of the Navigation Center as repairs were ongoing. Library leaders approached City Manager Eric Holmes about the prospect of purchasing the full 26,000-square-foot building.
“I think they looked at the Grand Boulevard building with a new set of eyes,” McEnerny-Ogle told The Columbian last week.
The existing library headquarters is owned by the city and leased by the library. It’s part of a plot of land being eyed as an arts school campus and community performance space.
The library’s lease wasn’t supposed to expire until 2030. Moving it to the Navigation Center would free up that space earlier, McEnerny-Ogle said, and potentially accelerate the time line for an arts campus. An arts magnet elementary school is already under construction nearby for Vancouver Public Schools.