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March 30, 2023

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Murals brighten up Vancouver Safe Stay Community Hope Village

Residents vote on favorite images, plan to add their own artwork

By , Columbian staff reporter
5 Photos
Hope Village resident Jimmy John Howland sits by his favorite mural at Hope Village, the city's second Safe Stay Community. The mountainous landscape featured in the mural reminds him of Trillium Lake, where he used to go with his dad when he was younger.
Hope Village resident Jimmy John Howland sits by his favorite mural at Hope Village, the city's second Safe Stay Community. The mountainous landscape featured in the mural reminds him of Trillium Lake, where he used to go with his dad when he was younger. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Nonprofit organization Fourth Plain Forward, through a partnership with the Clark County Mural Society and the city of Vancouver, is installing local art to beautify the city’s second Safe Stay Community for people experiencing homelessness.

Ten murals have already been installed at the Safe Stay at 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., called Hope Village, with about five more on the way within the next few weeks. The project is part of the Fourth Plain Summers of Murals program, which pairs artists with building owners to place murals along East Fourth Plain Boulevard, stretching from Interstate 5 to Northeast Andresen Road.

The theme of the Safe Stay’s murals is “flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest,” said Fourth Plain Forward Executive Director Paul Burgess. The murals depict various interpretations of that theme, including vibrant flowers with the words “stay hopeful,” a bird soaring over a lake, a cloud riding a bicycle with a rainbow trailing behind it, and several others.

Fourth Plain Forward connected with artists through the Clark County Mural Society. Hope Village currently features artwork by local artists Stephan Smith, Travis London, Christian Barrios, Susan Soltau and Catya Ledezma. The murals are printed on a weather-proof aluminum composite that will not fade over time. Graffiti can be easily cleaned off of the material if needed.

The original artwork creates a sense of community at Hope Village, a site operated by Living Hope Church that is currently housing 22 people in pallet shelters. Residents participated in the process by voting on which murals they wanted to see hung in their community.

“Murals are really a significant part of building community and bringing community together,” Burgess said. “If we don’t bring art into our public spaces, then we’re losing that culture and we’re losing that history.”

Hope Village is enclosed by a chain-link fence wrapped with black plastic. Murals fastened on the fence inside and outside the community give the space a splash of color.

“When I came in here at first, it was kind of militant,” said Hope Village resident Jimmy John Howland, who has lived at the Safe Stay since May. “Those pictures help. It’s looking a lot better.”

Howland himself is an artist, creating abstract and contemporary pieces. He became homeless after losing his leg two years ago due to a blood clot. Unable to work because of his disability, he could no longer afford housing.

He now uses a wheelchair, sometimes pushing himself along with a set of hiking poles to zoom around the Safe Stay’s blacktop. “It’s just a long road back,” he said.

Howland said he’d like to see more murals all over Hope Village. He feels especially connected to the mural depicting a mountain and a group of people camping. It reminds him of days going to Trillium Lake with his dad when he was younger. “The way the mountain sits in that picture, it’s almost identical,” he said.

For resident Michelle Austin, art is an integral part of life. An applied arts major in college, Austin continues making art at the Safe Stay when she can. Her favorite medium is pen and ink with watercolor wash. She paints landscapes, creates charcoal portraits of people and pets, and does fashion design.

“Introducing art to the community in general has been soothing to the spirit,” Austin said. “Being an artist or musician, we all network. And there’s a lot of both here, a lot of creative people.”

Fourth Plain Forward is planning to work with Austin and other residents to help them create their own murals for Hope Village. Austin has been brainstorming ideas for her mural. Among her ideas is a collage with a church in the background — a way of showing her gratitude for Hope Village.

“I’m playing with a few things,” she said. “I just want to do something about our hopes and dreams and goals.”

Going forward, Fourth Plain Forward, the Clark County Mural Society and the city will continue placing murals throughout the area, with the ultimate goal of flooding the 3-mile corridor with murals, Burgess said.

Austin thinks Hope Village has felt much more cheerful since the murals were installed in late August. “It’s a win-win, really,” she said. “You can’t go wrong with art.”

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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 and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit