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News / Health / Clark County Health

Air quality a concern for homeless in Vancouver, Clark County

By Kelsey Turner, Columbian staff reporter
Published: October 17, 2022, 2:20pm

As the Nakia Creek fire expanded this weekend, people living outside had some extra precautions to consider, such as where to find safe shelter if bad air quality makes it too dangerous to stay outdoors.

The fire crept toward Vancouver’s two Safe Stay Communities at 11400 N.E. 51st Circle and 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. before the evacuation zone shrank again today. Each Safe Stay has 20 modular pallet shelters that house up to 40 people experiencing homelessness.

The Safe Stay on Fourth Plain, operated by Living Hope Church, is not yet at the point where operators are concerned for residents’ safety.

“If it gets to the point where it’s detrimental to their health, probably for the time being, we’d take them inside. We have a shelter inside the church,” said Brian Norris, outreach pastor at Living Hope Church. “When the need gets to there — whether it be hot weather, cold weather, air quality — we don’t want anyone suffering outside.”

In previous years when fires led to bad air quality, Living Hope Church opened its doors and parking lot to people who needed to evacuate. He said the church has not opened its parking lot for those escaping the Nakia Creek fire, but Norris continues evaluating whether it will be necessary to do so.

“Are we at the point yet where we should open up the parking lot for people that are evacuating? I think we’re close, but we’re not quite there,” he said this morning.

Clark County’s Council for the Homeless is similarly taking precautions and is prepared to take further action if necessary.

“At this time outreach coordinators are reaching out to encampments in the surrounding Clark County areas to make sure that participants are safe and able to relocate if required by emergency services (CRESA),” said Council for the Homeless Coordinated Outreach Director Clara Johnson in an email statement on Monday.

Outreach teams from multiple agencies are working together, coordinated by Council for the Homeless, said the council’s communications director, Charlene Welch. Outreach staff has KN95 masks, water and basic needs supplies for people impacted by smoke and fire.

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

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Columbian staff reporter