Thirteen months ago, Jimmy was experiencing homelessness on the streets of Vancouver.
After losing his leg due to a blood clot, Jimmy was wheelchair bound. As he was trying to heal, unable to work and with a stall in his Social Security and disability payments, Jimmy became houseless.
“I just ended up on the street, because I just didn’t have an income or a place to go. I didn’t know anything about outreach or anything about being homeless. So it was all a new experience for me,” said Jimmy, whose last name remains private.
He moved around a bit for a month before he met city outreach workers who connected him with staff from Vancouver’s second Safe Stay community, Hope Village.
And on Friday, Jimmy sat with other residents under a blanket of hot, spring air to celebrate the first birthday of the community that has offered stability, hope and growth for 56 residents just like him.
“There’s no denying it, this place is getting good people off the streets,” said Jimmy. “I’m really digging this place so much.”
Similar to the first Safe Stay, The Outpost, Hope Village features 20 small modular pallet shelters that can house up to 40 people. The pallet shelter community features sanitation services, portable toilets, meeting spaces and a communal kitchen.
“I’ve been in the homeless outreach with Living Hope Church for 11 plus years, and the one area that we just didn’t have was housing solutions. We could always put clothes on people’s backs, put food in their stomachs. But we could never really provide them with stabilized housing,” said Brian Norris, outreach pastor with Living Hope Church.
Out of the 56 people who have lived at Hope Village, 16 have transitioned to permanent housing, according to Norris. Jimmy is waiting for permanent housing, where he hopes to live with his daughter.
Through staff help, residents can connect with mental health or substance use resources, get help finding employment, volunteer work and pursue goals that are sometimes unattainable due to the trauma of experiencing homelessness.
“Human lives matter. We’re just seeing so many people who have that ‘they matter’ (feeling) really restored,” said Norris.
Norris’ sentiment is evident in residents around Hope Village. Mica Thompson lived in his truck for five years as a result of the end of a relationship and losing his job.
“I pretty much gave up,” he said.
His daughter connected him with Hope Village staff, and now Thompson spends his days volunteering at the warming and cooling shelter and working around the community. He is now waiting to be connected with some outside resources.
“This place has been a godsend,” said Thompson.
Step in the right direction
While residents and community members basked in the warm sun, Hope Village resident Adam Atchison hung back in the shade cast by one of the pallet homes — sipping from a soda can.
Three months ago, Atchison moved into Hope Village after living in his car for about a year. Despite working, he was still looking for affordable rent in Vancouver. Last year, Vancouver was ranked the eighth worst city in America to rent a home due to its dangerous mix of high rent and low housing supply.
Through family friends, Atchison was connected with Hope Village staff, and within a week of being interviewed, he was handed keys to his own pallet shelter.
“I was a little apprehensive coming in, I wasn’t sure what the people would be like,” he said. “But it has been great, and I’ve started to think of a lot of these people as my second family.”
Hope Village staff have been working with him to get into a permanent housing situation and he is appreciative for the peer support lent by other residents.
“I feel like a lot of time (people experiencing homelessness) are forgotten about, or people don’t take us seriously,” said Atchison. “But today is just to celebrate us.”
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.