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News / Clark County News

Clark Asks: How can you help someone who’s experiencing homelessness in Clark County?

Directing people to resources, sharing a smile make a difference

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter, and
Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: August 31, 2023, 6:08am
2 Photos
Jamie Spinelli chats in 2018 with a resident at Vancouver Community Library. Spinelli said patience and kindness toward those experiencing homelessness is paramount.
Jamie Spinelli chats in 2018 with a resident at Vancouver Community Library. Spinelli said patience and kindness toward those experiencing homelessness is paramount. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

People pass by residents experiencing homelessness every day in Clark County, where at least 672 people live outside, according to the county’s 2023 Point-in-Time Count.

For some, it’s their first day being homeless. Others have struggled to find stable housing for years. One reader used The Columbian’s Clark Asks feature to find out how they can help the people they see living outside connect to services.

Leaders of local homeless organizations say there are many ways to help, even if it’s just giving a smile to the unsheltered people they pass on the street.

Shelter

If someone needs shelter, Council for the Homeless’ housing hotline at 360-695-9677 gives guidance on available shelter and housing assistance in the county.

Council for the Homeless’ resource guide, found on its website, has the phone numbers, addresses, hours of operation, website links and services for many resources an unhoused person might need. These include resources relating to housing, hygiene, food, pregnancy, pet care, transportation, employment and health.

Food

Clark County Food Bank has a map of free food resources. Someone could type in the person’s location and give them the address of the nearest place where they could find free food, whether it’s a food pantry or a place where they can get hot meals.

In downtown Vancouver, people can go to FISH, 906 Harney St. It has daily sack lunches from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and people can shop for perishable items once a week. Once a month, people can shop for nonperishable items from its pantry. No ID or proof of income is needed.

Hot meals are served at many local shelters, including Share House, 1115 W. 13th St. in Vancouver and Angels of God Meals at Living Hope Church, 2533 N.E. Andresen Road in Vancouver.

Hygiene

It can be difficult for people living outside to maintain their hygiene, but there are several places where people can get free showers in the county.

Food with Friends often hosts free showers at the Live Love Center, 2711 N.E. Andresen Road in Vancouver. Check Food with Friend’s Facebook page to see when the next available times are.

For Camas and Washougal residents, The Salvation Army of Camas/Washougal, 1612 I St. in Washougal, has a hygiene center where people can shower and receive toiletries and receive new clothing.

Friends of the Carpenter has showers and laundry facilities. Laundry Love in Woodland allows people to do laundry for free one day a month at its 629 Goerig St. location.

People without an address can access mail services from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday downstairs at Outsiders Inn, 1309 Franklin St. in downtown Vancouver beneath St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Mental health

If someone is having a mental health or substance use crisis, Columbia River Mental Health’s mobile team can be reached from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 360-597-7900.

Someone can also reach mental health mobile teams by calling the 24/7 Crisis Connections line at 800-626-8137.

Items someone can carry

The needs of people on the street can change with the weather. During hot months, keeping an extra water bottle or sunscreen can be helpful for people living in the heat. Handwarmers, lip balm or an extra pair of gloves are resources people living outside often need in winter.

Officials are increasingly suggesting that people carry Narcan with them — medicine that can reverse an overdose. Free Narcan vending machines are located at the Recovery Cafe, XChange Recovery and Recovery Resource Center. The medicine can also be purchased at a pharmacy.

Showing kindness

Renee Stevens, executive director of Open House Ministries, said just listening to people living outside or giving them a smile can help someone.

“Not everybody maybe has resources where they can say, ‘Hey, go here, go there,’ but everybody can smile,” she said.

A study by the National Health Foundation shows that often people living outside feel invisible, yet are always on display. Making eye contact, greeting a person living outside can reaffirm their humanity.

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Jamie Spinelli, the city of Vancouver’s homelessness response coordinator, said not to underestimate the value of being kind and patient with people, especially those experiencing homelessness.

Spinelli said taking the time to say “hello” to a person living outside or make small talk is often overlooked.

“What means typically very little to the rest of us actually means a great deal to folks who live outside,” Spinelli said. “People need connection with other people, it’s a human need. And that’s no different for people outside.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

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.

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