Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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Plan to reduce Clark County homelessness focus of community forum

Council for the Homeless working to draft new Homeless Action Plan for Clark County

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
8 Photos
Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper, third from left, leads a breakout session Tuesday at a community forum at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Community members were invited to provide input on the 2023-2028 Homeless Action Plan for Clark County. The Homeless Action Plan is a road map the county uses to determine how to use funding to serve people experiencing homelessness in Clark County.
Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper, third from left, leads a breakout session Tuesday at a community forum at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Community members were invited to provide input on the 2023-2028 Homeless Action Plan for Clark County. The Homeless Action Plan is a road map the county uses to determine how to use funding to serve people experiencing homelessness in Clark County. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Council for the Homeless held a community forum Tuesday evening to gather input from community members on the 2023-2028 Homeless Action Plan for Clark County.

The Homeless Action Plan is a road map the county uses to determine how to use funding to serve people experiencing homelessness in Clark County. It is a requirement of the state Department of Commerce, and it guides the disbursement of government funds, namely from Vancouver, Clark County, Vancouver Housing Authority and Council for the Homeless, which receive a mix of state, federal and local money.

The current Homeless Action Plan was developed in 2017 and expires at the end of this year. The new plan will go into effect in January 2023 if it is approved by the Clark County Council. It will expire in 2028.

The Council for the Homeless began developing the plan in February, and a draft is due to the Clark County Council by December for approval. A draft is expected to be completed by October.

To help develop the plan, the organization has been holding a series of community forums to hear from people both housed and unhoused about what should be included in the plan.

NEXT STEPS

  • Community forums held in rural communities in September.
  • Draft of Homeless Action Plan completed in October.
  • Draft presented to Clark County Council for approval before the end of December.
  • If approved, plan is implemented on Jan. 1, 2023.

ON THE WEB

To learn more about the Homeless Action Plan and upcoming community forums, visit
www.facebook.com/CouncilfortheHomeless

“One thing the council has done a little differently this year than we haven’t done in previous years is we’ve worked very hard to intentionally connect with members of the unhoused community here all the way across Clark County,” said Siobhana McEwen, advocacy and equity director for Council for the Homeless. “We’ve been very specific and intentional about hearing from folks. What are the services that you need? What are you getting and what are you not getting? What’s working and what’s not working? We want to know these things so that we can put that feedback directly into the plan.”

Tuesday’s event, held at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Vancouver, was a general forum open to all, but previous forums have been focused on specific groups, such as a Black and African American community forum, a Native American and Indigenous community forum and an LGBTQ+ community forum. Upcoming forums will focus on rural communities in Clark County.

“It was a new approach,” McEwen said. “Data tells us that there are certain folks who experience homelessness at much higher rates than other folks. And so those are the folks where the systemic barriers really exist. And who knows those barriers better than the people experiencing them? So we made it a point to really try to go to different culturally specific groups, to go directly to people experiencing homelessness, and have forums that way.”

So far, the method has been successful, according to McEwen.

“One thing that we certainly have been hearing is that, especially in those communities with such massive systemic barriers, we find a lot of a need to have community-specific or culturally specific services,” McEwen said. “It’s a lot easier to feel validated and heard by someone who looks like you and sounds like you, someone who understands the culture, who understands the barriers that you’ve experienced.”

Tuesday’s event included four speakers: Andy Silver, chief operating officer for the Vancouver Housing Authority; Alishia Topper, Clark County treasurer; Jamie Spinelli, homelessness response coordinator for the city of Vancouver; and Adam Kravitz, executive director of Outsiders Inn. Katie Jolma, a consultant hired by Council for the Homeless to help develop the plan, hosted the event. Roughly 30 people were in attendance.

Following a presentation outlining the Homeless Action Plan, the speakers met with attendees to discuss various aspects of homelessness. Discussions revolved around barriers to housing, successful housing programs, what details should be included in the Homeless Action Plan and more.

During those discussions, attendees said that relationships are key to exiting homelessness, health care and housing systems should be more coordinated, rising rents and a tight housing market are responsible for an increase in homelessness, and the increase in the number of outreach workers and shelters in Clark County over the past few years has made a positive impact on people experiencing homelessness.

The current Homeless Action Plan called for an increase in street outreach workers. Between 2020 and 2022, the number of outreach workers in Clark County increased from six to 25.

“When we talk to folks on the street, it used to be that most of the people had never talked to an outreach worker,” Kravitz said. “Now, most of the people have talked to someone, and I think that’s made a big difference.”

Attendees also completed a survey that included questions centered around homelessness in Clark County. The surveys and the discussions from the event will be used to develop the next Homeless Action Plan.

The number one goal of the Homeless Action Plan is to reduce homelessness, according to Jolma.

“Everything that we’re doing tonight — the slide show, our notes — it all goes to the county council in a form of a report that is synthesized from all of this community feedback,” she said.

While the Homeless Action Plan provides a road map for how to fund emergency rapid rehousing programs, shelters, transitional housing and supportive housing, it does not provide funding for new units of housing, Jolma said.

“What the Homeless Action Plan can’t do is reduce existing rents,” she said.

The Homeless Action Plan is separate from Vancouver’s own plan to reduce homelessness, but the two plans work together, according to Spinelli.

“The city’s plan is very much an attempt to support and collaborate with and coordinate with the county’s Homeless Action Plan and the rest of the homeless crisis response system,” she said.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the current Homeless Action Plan, Council for the Homeless delivered on many of its goals; namely, to increase the number of outreach workers and to reduce the number of people new to homeless and rates of homelessness among youth and veterans.

“In terms of successes and lessons learned, we have been very successful in enacting and working toward the goals that were outlined in the last Homeless Action Plan,” McEwen said.

The 2021 Homeless Action Plan Outcomes Report is available on Council for the Homeless’ website.

To learn more about the Homeless Action Plan and upcoming community forums, visit www.facebook.com/CouncilfortheHomeless.

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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 and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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