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News / Business / Clark County Business

Nam’u qas apartments for people exiting foster care opens in Hazel Dell

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter, and
Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: October 25, 2023, 5:14pm
6 Photos
Cowlitz Tribal Council Member Suzanne Donaldson, center, delivers a land acknowledgment during the grand opening ceremony of the Nam'u qas apartment complex.
Cowlitz Tribal Council Member Suzanne Donaldson, center, delivers a land acknowledgment during the grand opening ceremony of the Nam'u qas apartment complex. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A Hazel Dell parking lot located just off the freeway used to be where Vancouver City Councilor Bart Hansen covered up graffiti.

“Now what I see behind me is success,” Hansen said as he gestured to the multicolored building behind him at 5115 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave. It’s full of 30 spacious apartments for people exiting foster care — a group particularly vulnerable to homelessness.

“It provides a safe affordable place for them to live with access to supportive services as they work toward self-sufficiency,” Hansen said.

State and local elected officials, members of Vancouver Housing Authority, members of the Cowlitz Tribe and residents gathered outside the building for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.

The event opened with a blessing by Tanna Engdahl, spiritual leader of the Cowlitz Tribe, and closed with a drum ceremony.

The opening of Nám’u qas, the Cowlitz word for “to wish or hope,” will provide much-needed housing for youth exiting foster care and youth experiencing homelessness in Clark County. According to a 2022 state study, 17 percent of youth who exited foster care became homeless after one year.

If someone who ages out of foster care doesn’t have the opportunity to remain with their foster parents, they must find their own housing.

“Imagine being 18 to 24 and lacking the safety net of family … and trying to navigate or avoiding or transitioning to homelessness,” said Joan Caley, Vancouver Housing Authority board of commissioners chair.

“What chances for earning a livable wage are there for you if you need to take the first unskilled position you can get just to survive?”

Through a three-year grant, the Firstenburg Foundation will provide $25,000 a year to provide supportive services such as caseworkers to Nám’u qas residents.

Nám’u qas is also funded through the Department of Commerce, Vancouver Housing Authority and Cowlitz Tribe. The city of Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund contributed over $1.17 million to the project.

Although Janus Youth Programs director Scott Conger said a facility like this rare, it’s the second of its kind in Clark County.

Caples Terrace, another affordable building that houses youth exiting foster care in Clark County, opened in 2019. It’s primarily studio apartments, which poses challenges for residents with children, said Caley.

Nám’u qas contains one- and two -bedroom units for residents and their families as well as an indoor children’s play area.

The main hallways are lined with colorful original artwork from local artists such as Cowlitz Tribe member and muralist Sarah Folden.

“Our prayer is that this new space will be more than just walls and ceilings, but a sanctuary of hope and new beginnings for those who make a home here,” Engdahl said.

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.