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May 26, 2022

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New Vancouver homeless shelters Bertha’s Place, Bertha’s Too add 94 beds for those in need

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
5 Photos
Samantha Forrester, a social worker with Catholic Community Services and director of Bertha's Place and Bertha's Too, looks over a couple's room at Bertha's Place, a new homeless shelter for women, couples and people over 55 that is operated out of the former Howard Johnson hotel near Vancouver Mall. The shelter includes 62 shelter beds and is operated by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. People will be able to stay in the shelter until they're able to find long-term, sustainable housing.
Samantha Forrester, a social worker with Catholic Community Services and director of Bertha's Place and Bertha's Too, looks over a couple's room at Bertha's Place, a new homeless shelter for women, couples and people over 55 that is operated out of the former Howard Johnson hotel near Vancouver Mall. The shelter includes 62 shelter beds and is operated by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. People will be able to stay in the shelter until they're able to find long-term, sustainable housing. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Two new homeless shelters that house women, couples and people over 55 have recently opened in Clark County.

Bertha’s Place, which is run out of the former Howard Johnson at 9201 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, opened at the end of December during the winter storm. It opened ahead of schedule to help ease the load on other shelters as temperatures dipped below freezing.

Bertha’s Too, which is operated out of the former Elahan Place at 7415 N.E. 94th Ave., opened this week.

Together, the new shelters added 94 beds for people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver.

The Washington State Department of Commerce provided the Vancouver Housing Authority with a $5.1 million grant to help cover the cost of purchasing Bertha’s Place in September. Organizers with the city of Vancouver, Clark County Community Services and the Vancouver Housing Authority picked Catholic Community Services of Western Washington to operate the shelter.

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 samanthaf@ccsww.org.

Clark County residents in need of housing or shelter can call the Council for the Homeless housing hotline at 360-695-9677.

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