As the former hotel was being transformed into a shelter, organizers teamed up with Columbia River Mental Health Services to convert Elahan Place, a former rehabilitation and treatment center, into a shelter under the same contract as Bertha’s Place. The second shelter, located a short distance from Bertha’s Place, was dubbed Bertha’s Too.
Both shelters were set to open early this year. But freezing temperatures around Christmas called for immediate action. Bertha’s Place opened early, and 26 people were able to stay at the shelter on Christmas Day, according to Samantha Forrester, a social worker with Catholic Community Services and director of both shelters.
“We took in the most vulnerable because of the storm,” Forrester said. “We had a lot of elderly people and elderly couples.”
Bertha’s Place currently houses 36 residents. No residents are staying at Bertha’s Too yet, but people will begin moving in soon. Both shelters will operate year-round, 24/7.
To gain access to the shelters, people need to receive a referral through an organization such as Council for the Homeless. There is no time limit for how long someone can stay if they follow the rules and are filling the requirements of their referral.
“People can stay for as long as it takes to find those sustainable, long-term housing needs,” Forrester said. “We don’t want people back out on the street six months later. That defeats the goal. People need time to find long-term, sustainable solutions.”
Most referrals require people to be actively working toward finding employment or long-term housing. Forrester said that Catholic Community Services is working with multiple community organizations, such as Council for the Homeless and CDM Caregiving Services, to get residents connected to resources. Columbia River Mental Health Services provides behavioral health care primarily for people staying at Bertha’s Too, but they will assist at Bertha’s Place as well.
“We’ve partnered with all the other local housing agencies,” Forrester said. “We’re building a team. We’re building a community.”
According to Forrester, one woman who checked in on New Year’s Eve was able to get connected with services and is now transitioning into her own home.
“We want more success stories like that,” Forrester said.
Organizers are having difficulty staffing the shelters. Forrester said she aims to have some 25 staff at Bertha’s Place, including four case managers and two supervisors, and 20 at Bertha’s Too with two case managers and two supervisors. All staff are required to have a background in mental health services.
“Our goal was to have weekday staff and weekend staff, but that’s been a struggle,” she said. “But we almost have a full staff.”
Since Bertha’s Place had to open early, renovations are still being made, but most of the construction is complete. The former pool area has been converted into a social space with a TV and a kitchen, and many rooms have been made more accessible for people with disabilities.
Both shelters accept women, couples and people over 55, but Forrester said she is considering making Bertha’s Too a women-only shelter.
Even though the shelters are just getting started, Forrester said that they have received strong community support.
“It’s wonderful to see people coming together for residents in need,” she said. “It takes a team to do this work, and people have really come together.”
According to Laura Ellsworth, a spokesperson for Council for the Homeless, Bertha’s Place is already making a positive impact in the community.
“We’re really thankful for Bertha’s Place,” she said. “It’s taking a lot of stress off of other shelters.”
People interested in donating to the shelter can email Forrester at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clark County residents in need of housing or shelter can call the Council for the Homeless housing hotline at 360-695-9677.