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Friday, September 29, 2023
Sept. 29, 2023

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In Our View: 4th Safe Stay site plan fuels cautious optimism

The Columbian

A proposal for a fourth Safe Stay Community in Vancouver is encouraging. But it also generates numerous questions that must be answered before the plan is adopted.

City officials announced last week that a site at 4611 Main St. — just north of Kiggins Bowl — has been selected for the construction of housing to serve homeless people. Like previous Safe Stay sites, it would have 20 modular pallet shelters that can house up to 40 people.

Among the benefits of the plan, organizers are adhering to their promise to spread the sites throughout the city. The first site, which opened in late 2021, is off of 112th Avenue south of Highway 500. The second site is off the 4900 block of Fourth Plain Boulevard. A third site, which is awaiting construction, is slated for downtown.

Homeless encampments are not limited to one or two areas of the city. They are a communitywide issue, and officials have effectively worked to deliver Safe Stay communities where they are needed.

The latest proposal is for a property owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, near where Main Street converges with Interstate 5. The department would lease a portion of the 18,750-square-foot lot to the city. Jamie Spinelli, Vancouver’s homeless response coordinator, said state officials “have been trying to figure out a way to solve the problem of camps on (their properties) when they are not service providers, because they don’t have the ability to connect people with services. This is one way that they can contribute to the solution.”

Connecting residents with services is the underlying purpose of the Safe Stay sites. Getting people into secure housing makes assistance more accessible and makes residents more amenable to receiving such assistance. Judging by the number of people who have eventually found permanent housing and by a reduction in police calls to neighborhoods surrounding the sites, they have been a success.

Yet, questions remain about the proposal for the fourth site.

One involves the proximity of Discovery Middle School, which is directly south of Kiggins Bowl. Input from Vancouver Public Schools officials will be necessary to ensure that the site will not disrupt school functions or pose safety concerns.

Another question involves the proximity of a preschool on the west side of Main Street.

As concerns are raised, it is important for residents and businesses near established Safe Stay communities to share their experiences.

City officials are planning two community information sessions regarding the proposed site: Online from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday (to register, go to cityofvancouver.us/cis), and in person from 7 to 9 p.m. June 5 at Discovery Middle School.

While neighbors might have concerns about a new homestead for homeless people, the fact is that homeless people already are near their neighborhood. The Safe Stay sites are fenced and are monitored around the clock, and camping is prohibited within 1,000 feet.

With those restrictions, the proposed new site might result in the removal of encampments near Burnt Bridge Creek and Leverich Park on the east side of Interstate 5, serving to improve the surrounding area.

If people can find secure housing rather setting up a tent in a public space, it can be a win-win for the entire community. Thus far, it seems, Vancouver’s Safe Stay communities are on a winning streak.