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News / Clark County News

Vancouver taps Outsiders Inn to run homeless campsites

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 29, 2021, 8:00pm

The Vancouver City Council voted unanimously Monday to contract with Outsiders Inn, a Vancouver-based nonprofit, to operate campsites for homeless people.

Vancouver will pay Outsiders Inn $571,148 to run daily operations. Adam Kravitz, executive director of Outsiders Inn, said in a phone interview Wednesday that most of the budget accounts for staffing to ensure the campsites remain safe, secure and clean.

The nonprofit is a peer-run organization whose trained staff have experience with homelessness. This background allows Outsiders Inn to understand what support is needed, as well as how to deliver it, Jamie Spinelli, the city’s homeless resources coordinator, said in a news release.

“What we envision is essentially a gated community,” Kravitz said. “These are places where people can leave their things, feel safe and be supported.”

The campsites are an option for those living in tents or without shelter in the Vancouver area, and they serve as a means of transition from “tenting to renting,” he said.

The city’s goal is to establish three “supportive campsites” by the end of the year, according to the news release. This is projected to assist about one-quarter of Vancouver’s estimated homeless population.

“Our city’s temporary supportive campsite program is not designed to resolve homelessness in the community, but rather to alleviate some of the most immediate, severe impacts to people and place,” Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said in the news release. “Because these sites are supported, campsite residents will have greater access to services, increased stability, and more safe, healthy and humane living conditions as individuals work to resolve their homelessness.”

Each site would support 20 to 40 residents and provide on-site showers and restrooms, as well as screening or fencing. Outsiders Inn will include outreach teams and providers to help unhoused people find a home, employment and health care services, Kravitz said.

The locations have not been chosen yet.

Once the city selects potential locations for the campsites, any resident or business owner within 1,200 feet of the spots will be notified and can participate in a public comment period.

There have been concerns regarding how the campsites will affect neighboring areas and the environment.

Council member Bart Hansen last week voted against the ordinance and said it will harm too much of the city’s natural land with water contamination. He also said fire could potentially spread from the camps to trees or nearby houses.

The ordinance protects environmentally sensitive areas under “Camping Impact Areas.” It prohibits camping in certain areas 200 feet near waterways, including the Columbia River, Vancouver Lake, Burton Channel, Peterson Channel, Fisher’s Creek and Burnt Bridge Creek.

Outsiders Inn wants to make the campsites a welcoming part of nearby neighborhoods, Kravitz said, which includes taking care of the physical environment the community resides in.

“I only anticipate (the camps) making any area look better,” he said.

Columbian staff writer