More than a dozen Sonshine Christian School students gleefully moved throughout Vancouver’s newest Safe Stay Community on Wednesday, delivering goody bags for its future residents.
They raised hundreds of dollars by selling snacks at school to fill the drawstring sacks with various supplies, which the students placed in each modular shelter.
One of its residents, Eddy Gresko, is moving to the new site, at 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., after living in a wooded area along Andresen Road. Gresko said his homelessness is exhausting — the redundancy of moving into and out of shelters has worn at his ability to see things in a positive light. Still, he is resolute in moving toward resolving his situation.
“I’m hoping it works,” he said. “There’s at least a place where I’ll be able to start.”
The villagelike community located at the former Golden Skate property has 20 shelters and can house up to 40 people seeking to transition from their homelessness beginning today. Individuals living nearby in encampments along Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway were relocated to the new site. Around 60 people applied to stay at the site.
Residents have access to local social services, basic sanitary amenities and a communal space at the community. Living Hope Church staff will operate the site 24/7, many of whom have experienced houselessness and recovery themselves — including Charles Stuart, the on-site manager.
For the past 20 years, Stuart has slipped in and out of homelessness, living in his van and various shelters. But at the Safe Stay Community, he’ll have his own space instead of having to room with strangers.
Brian Norris, the church’s associate pastor, said Living Hope had preexisting rapport with the homeless community, making it an asset to the Safe Stay Community network. For years, the organization supplied those in need with food, clothing and showers, yet it couldn’t deliver a housing option other than in the form of a referral. Now, that’s different.
“It’s a breath of fresh air. We are really excited for this,” Norris said. “We just really had nowhere to send people, but now we actually have that.”
People like Gresko have a chance to recover from their situation and thrive, Norris said; they just need to know they matter.
“These people have been kicked around,” longtime church member Patrick Quinlan said. “There’s no catch. Just love.”
Residents of the city’s first Safe Stay Community, at 11400 N.E. 51st Circle, have achieved significant milestones, said Jamie Spinelli, Vancouver’s homeless outreach coordinator. Vancouver-based nonprofit Outsiders Inn operates the North Image neighborhood location, which opened Dec. 23.
Dozens of people received IDs, some individuals entered medical-assisted treatment, and several pursued substance-use recovery services. One person is taking classes to receive a GED, and others have transitioned into housing.
Outsiders Inn executive director Adam Kravitz said there haven’t been any issues with residents at the site and neighboring communities. In a previous interview with The Columbian, he noted that the community’s concerns about the site becoming a magnet for crime are far from reality. He added that police have been called due to housed individuals outside of the Safe Stay Community harassing the residents.
However, Living Hope Church staff are not concerned about clashes between those in the site and the community.
“Hopefully, with the way that we continue working with our neighbors, they’ll see that we’re an asset to the neighborhood and not a hindrance,” Norris said.
City officials said they aim to have three Safe Stay communities operating this year, but there is potential for more sites in the future. Supplies for the third location have been purchased, but a location is yet to be determined; it likely will be on the west side of Vancouver, Spinelli said.
The Vancouver City Council adopted a resolution March 28 to approve its 2022 Affordable Housing Fund recommendations, which allocated more than $1 million to fund the transitional shelter project. The money was used to purchase 20 shelter units and two modular office spaces and to prepare two sites.
Spinelli said the homeless response team could establish more programs with the community’s help — from people offering to work at shelters to those finding promising spots for similar developments.
“A lot of great partnerships have been created between the service providers and the surrounding areas,” Spinelli added.
Those interested in volunteering or providing supplies are welcome to stop by Living Hope during the daytime or to email Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org.