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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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In Our View: Safe Stay successful, warrants continued scrutiny

The Columbian

Vancouver’s latest Safe Stay Community advances the city’s work to mitigate homelessness. It also calls for continued scrutiny from officials and the public.

The latest facility, dubbed 415 West for its address along 11th Street in the downtown core, will present challenges that are different from two existing Safe Stay sites. It is near closely bunched businesses and has understandably drawn concern from local proprietors. As one business owner told The Columbian: “It’s not a draw for other businesses to come into the area.”

That is a reasonable concern. And city officials must be diligent about enforcing regulations governing the site.

Among those is a ban on camping within 1,000 feet of a Safe Stay site. It would be self-defeating for the city to build pallet shelters for up to 40 residents, place a fence around the community and establish security measures, and then allow a tent encampment to pop up in the vicinity.

By most accounts, two existing Safe Stay sites have been successful both in providing housing and improving public safety. The Columbian reports: “For The Outpost Safe Stay site in Vancouver’s North Image neighborhood, police calls and officer-initiated visits within a 500-foot radius of the community dropped 30 percent within its first six months of operation. At the second Safe Stay, Hope Village, a six-month report also highlighted a decrease in law enforcement calls.”

Jamie Spinelli, the city’s homeless response coordinator, said: “I’m not, not sensitive to the feelings of people and their concerns. People do tend to fear the unknown — that’s natural. In my experience with the other two, people who have those concerns have now come back and said: ‘I was wrong about this.’ ”

The opening of the 415 West site coincides with a recent emergency declaration by city officials in response to growing homelessness. The declaration allows for the designation of up to 48 acres of public property as closed to camping.

The declaration is overdue, but it does not solve the problem; while the Safe Stay sites are not a panacea, they bring our community closer to a solution. The new facility also will provide some insight into a planned fourth Safe Stay location.

The city of Vancouver has approved a lease agreement for a property at 4611 Main St., near Kiggins Bowl, Cascade Middle School and an apartment complex. Spinelli writes at BeHeardVancouver.org: “This property would serve nearby residents who are living unhoused at Leverich Park, Burnt Bridge Creek greenway and on WSDOT properties near Interstate 5 onramps and offramps.”

Opposition from local residents has been more boisterous than opposition to previous sites. We cannot fault people who are concerned about a nearby site for unhoused residents, but the situation calls for public involvement. It calls for residents to visit established sites, explore surrounding neighborhoods and generate informed opinions.

According to city officials, existing Safe Stay Communities have served 186 people, assisted 48 in gaining employment and helped 73 move into stable housing. Spinelli said the average residency at a Safe Stay site is three to four months.

Thus far, the Safe Stay strategy appears to be successful, providing temporary stability for members of our community who are in difficult situations. But continued scrutiny of the program is warranted to ensure that each site is working as intended and that surrounding neighborhoods are not negatively impacted.