Now, the couple is staying at The Outpost, Vancouver’s first Safe Stay Community at 11400 N.E. 51st Circle. The community, staffed 24/7 by the on-site nonprofit operator Outsiders Inn, opened in December. A second Safe Stay Community on East Fourth Plain Boulevard opened six months ago today.
The Outpost features 20 small modular pallet shelters and can house up to 40 people. It also has sanitation services, portable toilets, handwashing stations, meeting spaces and a communal kitchen area.
In its first six months of operation, the Safe Stay Community has served 46 people, according to a report released Monday by the city of Vancouver. Partner agencies have received 74 referrals for medical care, mental health check-ins, education, employment, pet care and other services.
So far, 14 residents have successfully transitioned to permanent housing.
Sharon and Jerry moved into The Outpost on the day it opened last December. “Coming back here after they opened it was amazing,” Sharon said.
Though she and Jerry had used propane heaters in their tent, electric heaters made a big difference, she noted. “It was a warm, dry place to sleep, without the fear of somebody breaking in. It was more secure.”
The city’s data shows there has been a 30 percent reduction in police calls and officer-initiated visits within a 500-foot radius of The Outpost since it opened. There were 82 calls for service from January through June compared to 108 during the same period in 2021. Officer-initiated visits declined to 41 from 67.
Fire and EMS-related calls within this radius were down nearly 10 percent from last year, with only 6 percent responding specifically to The Outpost’s address.
“When there’s a large homeless camp anywhere, any kind of crime that’s happening in the area is attributed to the homeless camp,” said Vancouver Homelessness Response Coordinator Jamie Spinelli. The reduction in police and emergency calls helps debunk this perception, she said.
“The calls still exist, but they’re not coming from here,” Spinelli said. “I feel like that’s kind of been an eye-opener for some people.”
Spinelli attributes this reduction to a variety of factors, including the community’s stability. The Outpost holds events, including art groups and music gatherings. Residents can voice complaints at a weekly community meeting. Sometimes, people have cookouts for dinner, taking turns barbecuing. Though residents do not need to be sober to move in, there are no illegal drugs allowed on property.
Vancouver’s Safe Stay Communities have become a model for other cities. More than 20 groups from as far as Birmingham, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn., have reached out for information, guidance or to tour the sites, the city’s report says.
The city aims to open a total of four or five Safe Stay Communities. A second community opened in April at 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., operated by Living Hope Church. A third community on the west side will hopefully open by the end of this year, Spinelli said.
Sharon and Jerry, meanwhile, are still searching for an apartment they can afford. To accommodate for their disabilities that leave them unable to climb stairs, they need to live on the ground floor, but haven’t seen any openings in their price range.
Though the housing search has been frustrating, the couple continues meeting with The Outpost’s partner agencies to check in and look for openings.
In the meantime, they feel at home at The Outpost. “We’re the old couple on the block,” Sharon joked. She feels more connected, supported and safe than she had felt at the encampment. “It’s more of a family.”
Dylan Jefferies contributed to this story.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.