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News / Clark County News

Advocates’ goal: Keep the homeless (and their clothes) dry amid rainy season in Clark County

Wet weather isolating for unhoused, say those who have experienced it

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: October 21, 2023, 6:12am
2 Photos
Tents and other shelters sit in a grassy field under light rain Monday on Esther Street.
Tents and other shelters sit in a grassy field under light rain Monday on Esther Street. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With people sequestered inside their tents, the camp in front of Vancouver City Hall was silent on Monday except for the sound of raindrops striking blue and black tarps.

A few streets away, a man wearing a trash bag as a makeshift poncho pushed a cart with cans packed into matching white bags.

October marks the start of Washington’s rainy season — a lonely and challenging time for many people living outside, according to those who have experienced homelessness.

Some are used to it, having lived on the streets in the rainy state for years. Others are navigating living in the rain for the first time.

You Can Help

The Council for the Homeless takes donations at its website: www.councilforthehomeless.org/donating-supplies

Open House Ministries Secondhand Solutions Thrift Store accepts donations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at 915 W. 13th St., Vancouver.

John Meadows remembers his first October homeless. There was an element of freedom to summer, with the sunny weather allowing his two teenage sons to play outside or go to the skate park.

But when rain arrived, they were stuck inside the van that held all their possessions, looking out at the world through rain-streaked windows. It was an isolating time, he said.

“We spent a lot of time by ourselves in the van,” Meadows said. “This part of the year really sucks.”

Staying dry was difficult, even while inside the van. Without access to a dryer, Meadows noticed that their clothes — damp from the rain — were beginning to stink and grow mold.

They received new, dry clothes from Open House Ministries throughout two winters spent in their van.

Now, Meadows supervises the floor of the thrift store that provided him those clothes, helping others access jackets and other items to keep dry. He can see people living outside walking in front of the store in the rain.

“I see a lot of people here don’t mind the rain, but it’s different when you don’t mind it compared to when you have to walk in it,” he said.

During rainy periods, unhoused people are more susceptible to athlete’s foot and trench foot from damp socks, according to a 2016 study published in the National Library of Medicine.

That’s why many Vancouver shelters are asking for donations of new socks, especially wool ones. Waterproof clothing, jackets, tarps, ponchos and other items of clothing are also useful during winter, according to Council for the Homeless spokesperson Charlene Welch.

Some organizations addressing homelessness hand out laundry cards, such as Outsiders Inn, which runs Vancouver’s first Safe Stay, called The Outpost.

“That’s saved me so many times,” said Adam Kravitz, who spent six years being homeless before becoming executive director of Outsiders Inn.

With laundry cards, people can simply wash and dry their clothing without having to get new garments.

Kravitz said people could also consider donating blankets and bedding, because those items also get wet during the rainy season.

He knows what Meadows means about rain being a lonely time for people experiencing homelessness. That’s why The Outpost has events, such as arts and crafts, during which residents can develop a sense of community with their neighbors.

Meadows said he has found his own community at Open House Ministries.

Although seeing people come into the thrift store makes Meadows sad, he’s happy he can provide dry clothes like the ones he once received from the store.

“For the first time in my life, I’ve ever found wholeness and completeness,” he said.

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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.