A line of people in downtown Vancouver held squirming cats and dogs awaiting veterinary care while nearby hairdressers brushed away freshly cut locks off people’s shoulders. A ball thrown by a young boy bull’s-eyes a large red button, and an Open House Ministries’ chaplain splashes into the dunk tank once again.
The annual resource fair run by the faith-based family shelter Open House Ministries is an effort to connect people experiencing homelessness to services in a joyful setting with lunch, games and family-friendly activities.
“When people come here, and they can get a haircut, get AA information, get prayed with, find a housing resource — the impact is not just one-fold, it can be 10-plus fold,” said Open House Ministries Executive Director Renee Stevens.
The annual block party and resource event was started more than a decade ago. Thursday’s afternoon of celebration and services was kicked off with a proclamation from Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who declared this Aug. 10 as “Open House Ministries Appreciation Day.”
“We have a wonderful relationship with the city,” said Jean LaCrosse, donor relations officer for Open House Ministries. “We’ve been here since 1986. We have deep roots in the community, and they know we’re an anchor down here.”
Community organizations and services dotted the pavement on the downtown block. The Washington Department of Licensing has attended the event for two years, aiming to eliminate barriers for people who need identification for housing, jobs or other basic needs that require proof of identity.
“Identification helps (people living outside) get into housing right away,” said Vanessa Santos, training and policy specialist for the department. “At the last few events, we’ve seen people that have received cards get housing that same night.”
The event’s veterinary services by the Humane Society for Southwest Washington are by far the most popular. Some people have been waiting a year to access the free services the humane society offers.
Pam Kelly, 65, came to the fair to have her dog, Bella, microchipped and vaccinated.
She said she’s appreciative that Open House Ministries provides opportunities like this. She’s been living in an affordable housing complex since a fire destroyed her house. Her dog and cat have been her rocks, but she’s watched veterinary costs climb higher in the last few years.
“The place I used to get her nails cut used to be $5,” she said. “Now, it’s up to $25.”
Kat McAnalley with the humane society said that having free care for people’s pets may prevent them from developing expensive health issues in the future.
“That’s something that we’re seeing a lot more of now, especially since the pandemic,” she said. “People are surrendering their animals because they can’t find housing for their animals or they can’t find medical care for their animals.”
Stevens said that the resource fair is a place for people to make meaningful connections with community services.
“Instead of calling a 1-800 line and getting transferred, you’re actually able to meet somebody and get that direction in one day,” she said. “I think that’s huge.”
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.