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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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Safe Stay Community Hope Village sees success in first six months

Vancouver's second Safe Stay offers housing solution

By , Columbian staff reporter
5 Photos
Colorful summer flower baskets hang from the pallet units at Safe Stay Community.
Colorful summer flower baskets hang from the pallet units at Safe Stay Community. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Katie Vongthongthip was in survival mode for over five years — always on a mission to find food, safety, bathrooms, or a place to sleep at night.

But since moving to Hope Village, she said she can now just rest.

“I can finally live with my guard down. I’m not living in fight or flight mode — always trying to survive,” she said.

Since opening in April 2022, Vancouver’s second Safe Stay, Hope Village, has offered a housing solution to 36 people, according to a recent report which underscored the successes and challenges from the pallet community’s first six months (April to October 2022).

Similar to The Outpost, the city’s first Safe Stay, Hope Village has 20 modular shelters that house up to 40 people, with 24/7 on-site staff. Living Hope Church oversees the second Safe Stay.

Since its conception, Hope Village has helped five residents transition to permanent housing. On average, each resident secured housing in just under five months, according to the report. Norris said that number has increased to 11 since the six-month report. Seven residents were classified as “negative exits,” meaning they were asked to leave. But Norris said everyone is always welcome to return when they are ready.

Beyond a place to sleep and store their belongings, the Safe Stay is intended to be a resource for people experiencing homelessness to work through barriers and take steps toward their goals.

“The main thing that (the report can’t capture) is the number of how many lives have been impacted. We can’t obviously gauge how many people have gone from seclusion … to having hope restored back into their life and their stability,” said Brian Norris, an outreach pastor at Living Hope Church.

Stepping stones

Vongthongthip, her fiance, and their dog, a pitbull/husky cocktail named Nova Scotia, moved into Hope Village a few days before Christmas. The couple had been living in a van for about five years.

Due to diabetes, Vongthongthip became blind several years ago and was almost wholly dependent on her boyfriend as a guide.

But since moving into the second Safe Stay, she has obtained a walking cane, connected to the School for the Blind, and ultimately feels motivated to pursue her long-term goals— like making the steps to attend school in Seattle and buy a guide dog.

“If it wasn’t for here, I would not have picked up this cane and learned to get my independence back. I would have never gotten to the (place) that I am today,” she said.

In the first six months, 19 residents have actively sought employment. Fifteen have received mental health or substance use disorder evaluations, and 90 health care appointments were attended by residents. Two residents attended detox and other treatment programs.

The Safe Stay communities are also intended to curb the survival mode mindset like Vongthongthip was once in.

In the first six months, 3,990 meals were served to residents on-site, seven residents obtained identification documents, 150 items of clothing were distributed, and 347 hauls of groceries were donated to Hope Village. Bus passes (43), laundromat gift cards (43), and complimentary haircuts (13) were also provided to residents.

“This place is not a hand out though, it’s a hand-up,” said Vongthongthip.

Calls due to crime and safety dip

Since Hope Village was established last spring, public safety calls to the address have decreased, according to the report.

The city’s data shows that, in a 500-foot radius around the Safe Stay property, 47 calls were made — 10 more than the year prior. Law enforcement visited the site 11 times — down four from the same period in 2021.

Other calls for police to the area were noted to be about nonresidents committing crimes or people breaking the 1,000-foot no-camping buffer that each Safe Stay requires.

The majority of calls are also noted in the report to be for the shopping center that is adjacent to Hope Village. The number of calls listed in the report may be skewed due to the proximity to the entertainment strip.

The report also notes that before the Safe Stay Community was built on the site, the property saw “frequent break-ins and vandalism, most of which were unreported.”

Seven of the 48 calls for fire and emergency services to the area were to Hope Village. Norris said some calls from within Hope Village were due to health emergencies.

A place to call home

Walking into Hope Village, one of the first things that might catch a visitor’s eye is a family of plants and many-hued flowers sitting in front of Tiffany Evert’s pallet home.

Evert has experienced homelessness in and out for years. She had been living below an underpass and in community parks since 2019 after the housing assistance program she was in fell through.

She bounced in and out of motels but when she lost her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Evert couldn’t make rent and found herself back on the streets. She moved into the Safe Stay in October last year after an outreach worker connected her.

“At first when I got here, I was a bit unsure … I was nervous at first; but then I moved in, and it was great,” she said.

Since moving in, Evert said she has stayed more on top of her housing and attending medical appointments. When experiencing homelessness, Evert found it challenging to make appointments because she didn’t want to leave all her belongings unattended.

She said she needed a lot of stuff to survive; a tent, cooking gear, clothing, and hygiene necessities, and she couldn’t just pack it up in a backpack. “When you’re out there, you’re surviving — and a doctor’s appointment could be missed because you don’t want to worry about your stuff,” she said. “Now people can worry about themselves and focus on our needs.”

A third Safe Stay projected for downtown Vancouver at 415 W. 11th St. is still underway. The timeline is still tentative. The downtown location was chosen due to its proximity to resources and major transit lines, but also to provide housing for the unhoused population in that area.

“I just feel really hopeful,” Vongthongthip said. “I have no worries for the future and I just feel like I’m not going to go back to the streets.”

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.