Sallie Reavey and her husband own the Briar Rose Inn, a bed and breakfast that sits kitty-corner to the vacant lot. The possibility of a Safe Stay being put across the street is “very upsetting” to her, she said.
“We have talked to all of the neighbors around here. Every single one of them is up in arms about it,” Reavey said. “Personally, I’m ready to have a nervous breakdown.”
Reavey said she has had issues with vandalism and drug use on her property, as well as people shouting in the streets at night. “The problems we put up with now, I can live with,” she said. “But the thought of having a whole community of people across the street — that just seems intolerable to me.”
Few issues at other sites
City officials have noted that approving the temporary license agreement does not guarantee the Lynch property will be chosen as the Safe Stay site. The city will conduct extensive public outreach and community engagement for feedback once a finalist site has been selected, as it has done with its first two Safe Stay Communities. Part of that process includes notifying all neighbors and businesses within a 1,200-foot radius of the proposed site about the proposal and inviting them to provide feedback during a public comment period.
The city’s two existing Safe Stay Communities each have 20 modular shelters that house up to 40 people, with 24/7 on-site staff. Outsiders Inn currently operates the city’s first Safe Stay Community in the North Image neighborhood, and it was selected to operate the third Safe Stay Community once it opens.
In its first six months, the city’s first Safe Stay Community at 11400 N.E. 51st Circle has served 46 people experiencing homelessness, helped 14 people transition to housing, and led to a 30 percent reduction in police calls and officer-initiated visits in the surrounding area, according to a recent city report.
Brian Norris is the outreach pastor at Living Hope Church, which operates the city’s second Safe Stay at 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. Norris said he has not had any issues with nearby businesses since that Safe Stay Community, called Hope Village, opened last April, although businesses had some initial hesitation before the community was implemented.
There are several businesses close to Hope Village, including a construction company, a game store and a Dairy Queen, among others. The Columbian reached out to several business managers in the area. Those who responded all said they have not felt negatively impacted by Hope Village.
From Norris’ perspective, Safe Stays are actually an asset to neighboring businesses. A laundromat across the street, for example, provides Hope Village residents with a discount on laundry cards, helping to stimulate business while aiding the homeless community. Living Hope Church also gets a stipend for Hope Village residents to earn money by cleaning up trash in the area.
Potential neighbors unconvinced
Despite the successes of the first two Safe Stays, however, neighbors by the downtown property are pushing back against the possibility of putting a new community on the historic street.
Reavey, 77, and her husband bought the Briar Rose Inn 25 years ago. With no money to hire workers, they spent nine years renovating the house themselves, putting in a new roof, plumbing and electrical wiring.
“It was a hard struggle, but we didn’t stop, and we kept at it, and now we have a lovely business with a nice retirement income,” she said.
Now, if a Safe Stay Community appears nearby, she is debating whether she would sell her house rather than live next to it. “Imagine the tears that well up in my eyes when I think about leaving this lovely home,” she said.
David Fuller, owner of the Hamilton-Mylan Funeral Home, said he worries that having a concentration of homeless people down the street will deter families from choosing his business.
“We’ve been down here for over 100 years, and I don’t really need to be shutting my doors just because I’ve got something like that around my business,” he said. He would prefer the new Safe Stay Community be on the outskirts of town.
The “not in my backyard” mentality is a common challenge nationwide for organizations trying to address homelessness. Though residents understand and support efforts to house people, they might not want these efforts to impact their own neighborhoods that they know and love.
“Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m all in favor of helping the homeless,” said Reavey, who said she voted in favor of the city’s affordable housing property tax levy in 2016 that provides funding for housing and temporary shelters.
She said she was “thrilled” when the levy passed. “Little did I know that someday it would personally affect me,” she added.
Norris, on the other hand, argues that adding a Safe Stay Community is no different than putting a small apartment complex in a neighborhood. Safe Stay residents must go through a background check to live there. The communities are substance free and provide services that help residents find permanent housing and jobs.
“In my eyes, we’re doing all the stuff that an apartment complex does — in fact, probably going another step more,” Norris said. “With there being 24/7 staff on site to help people work through the barriers to get into housing, they also provide a sense of security, a sense of safety, a sense of accountability.”
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.