The Vancouver City Council approved a temporary license agreement Monday to consider converting a vacant downtown lot into a Safe Stay Community, causing further upset among neighboring business owners who have been outspoken against the effort.
The empty space being considered fills a city block northwest of the intersection of West Evergreen Boulevard and Daniels Street. It’s owned by the Edward C. Lynch Estate, which has engaged in previous efforts to resolve local homelessness. The estate is presenting the area to the city as an option for its third Safe Stay Community.
Before exploring the location as an option, however, the city of Vancouver had to approve a temporary license agreement with the private property owner, represented by Michael Lynch. Approving the licensing agreement does not mean the lot will become a Safe Stay Community, and it isn’t binding for either party.
Safe Stay Communities have served to mitigate homelessness in Vancouver. Each location offers temporary shelter and services for people who are houseless.
There are two existing sites: the first in the North Image neighborhood, 11400 N.E. 51st Circle, and the second along the Fourth Plain corridor, 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. Both locations are on public-owned land, as opposed to the Lynch property, so they did not require a license agreement.
The villages, which each contain 20 modular shelters that can house up to 40 people, are operated 24/7 by third-party contractors. Camping within 1,000 feet of the community is prohibited to dissuade others from congregating around the area.
Council members have unanimously supported the city’s Safe Stay Communities, nodding to previous successes in helping people transition into housing while also reducing local crime rates. However, Councilwoman Sarah Fox had reservations about the agreement and, ultimately, voted against it.
“Usually when we are evaluating a site for any particular use, you’d like to think (about) what is the highest, the best use for that site,” Fox said. “I wonder if the highest and best use of the site is not a temporary housing situation but a permanent development in the future where we would actually want to have a look back to some of our housing goals.”
She also acknowledged the business owners who appeared at the council meeting Monday, many of whom were startled into action at the prospect of having a Safe Stay Community in downtown Vancouver.
“We’re all sad to see this cancer moving in our neighborhood, and I will be looking at selling (this) business if this goes down,” said Sallie Reavy, who owns a bed and breakfast, located adjacent to the lot, with her husband. “I don’t want to live next to it, and I don’t want my guests coming from all around the world to stay with us to see it.”
“We’ve had people break into our property, (and) we get no relief from the city. ‘It’s your problem, Mr. Owner; you take care of it,’” said Terry Phillips, who owns property across the street from Lynch’s lot.
As business owners stepped up to the dais, they shared concerns about vandalism, drug use, and the disruption of the corridor’s growth and longevity.
Despite the controversy, council members reiterated the value of the Safe Stay Communities in conjunction with their appreciation of the Lynch Family Trust to begin the conversation about using the lot.
“I know that staff had been looking tirelessly trying to find somewhere. And I think about if not here, then where?” Councilwoman Kim Harless said. “The success stories are endless, and these are folks … trying to get out, and they just need that safe space. And I think we do need to look into whether or not this site will work, because if not here, then where?”
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.
For more information about the city’s Safe Stay Communities, visit beheardvancouver.org.