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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Local View: Is $2M enough to combat homelessness crisis?


Homelessness is a growing crisis in our community.

The 2022 Point In Time count of homeless individuals in Clark County identified 625 people as living unsheltered or in a location not meant for human habitation (such as cars or dilapidated RVs). This 625 does not include people who are in shelters or couch surfing (Clark County Council for the Homeless, 2022).

In Vancouver, the signs of this are evident. Driving down almost any street one can expect to see tents and/or people on the sidewalk.

Local governments have been working to address this issue. Two Safe Stay communities have opened in Vancouver; Tenny Creek, an assisted living facility for formerly homeless people, recently opened in Hazel Dell; and work has begun to move forward with Lincoln Place 2. The Clark County Council recently approved $2 million in mental health tax funds for the Lincoln Place 2 project.

Why are these projects important? Why is the approval for $2 million in mental health tax services important?

Of the 625 unsheltered individuals living in Clark County, 223 of them are considered chronically homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a chronically homeless person as “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”

This was an increase of 21 percent since the previous Point in Time count. Of these 625 people, 97 of which are seniors, all identified as having some type of disability such as mental health, chronic health conditions, substance use and/or developmental disabilities. This means that 100 percent of individuals living unsheltered have some type of disability.

Positive solutions

Homelessness decreases an individual’s ability to access mental health services, can intensify mental health symptoms and creates significant barriers that prevent treatment of chronic health conditions and end substance use/abuse.

We have 625 extremely vulnerable people living within an already marginalized population in our community. Being unable to be sure of where they will sleep and eat and if their items are safe can significantly limit the individual’s ability to manage medications, keep physical/mental health appointments or obtain substance use treatment, according to the Center on Budget and Policy.

Vancouver’s two Safe Stay communities, Tenny Creek and now Lincoln Place 2 are all positive solutions that will not only address the need of this vulnerable population for stable housing but allow the recipients to obtain access to needed treatment for both mental and physical health.

Clark County Council’s decision to approve $2 million in mental health tax funds to support mental health access at Lincoln Place 2 is going to improve the quality of life for its future tenants.

What about services for those that are still unsheltered? Without finding a way to provide regular access to mental health services, how can the community expect already struggling, often demonized, people to improve behaviors, living conditions and mental/physical health?

One answer could be expanding outreach services to allow mental health providers to reach clients where they are, instead of clients needing to go to the provider.

This also raises the question: Is $2 million enough?

Cecelia Engleman is a Felida resident with more than 10 years of experience working with disabled and houseless individuals in Clark County. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.