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News / Clark County News

Downtown Vancouver eyed to host city’s third Safe Stay Community for homeless people

By Kelsey Turner, Columbian staff reporter, and
Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 12, 2022, 6:05am

The city of Vancouver announced Tuesday that it is seeking public input on its proposal to transform a vacant downtown lot that was previously the site of New Heights Church into the site for the city’s third Safe Stay Community.

The Safe Stay would provide shelter and services to people experiencing homelessness, operated by the Vancouver-based nonprofit Outsiders Inn. A decision has not been made to turn the empty lot into a Safe Stay, as it must go through a community engagement process.

The property, 415 W. 11th St., occupies a city block northwest of the intersection of West Evergreen Boulevard and Daniels Street. It was selected because of its proximity to public transportation and other services.

The lot is owned by the Edward C. Lynch Estate, which required the Vancouver City Council to approve a temporary license agreement in mid-September before staff could officially consider it as an option for a Safe Stay Community.

The reception among neighbors and nearby business owners was mixed then and continues to be tense.

Terry Phillips, a real estate investment broker and president of TOP Property Group, runs his business across the street from the lot. Though Phillips appreciates the city’s efforts to address homelessness, he said he thinks this location will hurt downtown businesses and property values.

“The core of downtown in the historic district is not the place to set up a homeless camp,” he said. “It’s like putting Clyde Drexler, who’s a great basketball player, out on the basketball court with a pink tutu. This is no different. It’s the wrong location.”

Phillips’ neighbor, Sallie Reavey, co-owns a bed and breakfast with her husband called the Briar Rose Inn. For Reavey, her business is not just her livelihood, but her home as well.

“I feel so sorry for my neighbor, whose business would be highly impacted,” Phillips said of Reavey. “Let alone emotional trauma that she’s going through. She has her life investment there.”

When Reavey first heard the city was considering the lot as a Safe Stay location, she said she panicked. She worried she might even have to sell her home if the community is built. But now, she’s beginning to accept the idea, she said.

“Selfishly, if they do put it in, I’m hoping that they put it on the west section of the street, which is shadier for the homeless people,” Reavey said. “I’m hoping that if they do put it up, the exit is not facing my house.”

She also hopes the city will put a fence around the community to help it better blend in with the surrounding buildings and keep it from becoming an eyesore, she said.

Vancouver has two existing Safe Stay Communities, both on public-owned land: the first in the North Image neighborhood, 11400 N.E. 51st Circle, and the second in the Fourth Plain corridor, 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. The villages have 20 modular shelters that can house up to 40 people who are experiencing homelessness, as well as connect them to services that help them transition into housing.

Third-party contractors operate the sites 24/7 and uphold policies that prohibit camping within 1,000 feet of the Safe Stay Community.

How to provide feedback

Those who live or own businesses within 1,200 feet of the proposed site received letters from the city asking for their input during a public comment period. Thoughts and feedback about the proposal can be submitted through Oct. 28 on Be Heard Vancouver, www.beheardvancouver.org/ssc3.

The city is aiming to open the third Safe Stay Community site in December — depending on the public engagement and Vancouver City Council review.

There will be two information sessions where people can ask questions, learn more about the site and meet service provider, Outsiders Inn.

  • To attend in person: 9:30-11 a.m. Saturday at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. RSVP by emailing Kerry.peck@cityofvancouver.us or calling 360-487-8616.
  • To attend virtually: 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday on Zoom. Those who are interested in attending online can do so by using a computer, smart device or phone. Register online at Be Heard Vancouver or by calling 360-487-8616.

To learn more about Vancouver’s homelessness response and register for email updates, visit www.beheardvancouver.org/homelessness-response.

Community Funded Journalism logo

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.

Columbian staff reporter
Columbian staff writer