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News / Clark County News

Groups target homelessness: Discussion hosted by healthcare agencies examines challenges, notes seniors increasingly affected

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle predicts it will take decade to end homelessness

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 12, 2024, 5:02pm
3 Photos
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, standing, speaks to the group at a roundtable discussion about homelessness hosted by a group of healthcare agencies on Friday at the Water Resource Education Center in Vancouver.
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, standing, speaks to the group at a roundtable discussion about homelessness hosted by a group of healthcare agencies on Friday at the Water Resource Education Center in Vancouver. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A group of healthcare agencies convened a roundtable of politicians, housing organizations and nonprofits Friday to discuss how Clark County is working to end homelessness.

Panelists included Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

“Housing is health care,” Cleveland said. “Those who are suffering show up to the emergency room … and are sent right back out. That is also very, very difficult for professionals in health care to participate in day after day.”

The roundtable aimed to foster understanding of why people are homeless, who is most vulnerable and how the need for hospital trips can be reduced.

A group of Clark County health care providers, called the Clark and Cowlitz Counties Cross-Continuum Care Transitions Collaborative, meet regularly as the Steering Committee. Co-chair Kyla Phillips said a lack of housing has been a major issue for those providers because they frequently provide care for homeless people.

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Council for the Homeless Housing Hotline: 360-695-9677

Cleveland said a Medicare program called Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, will be coming to Clark County. It provides people 55 years and older with comprehensive medical and social services.

The fastest growing population becoming homeless in Clark County is people 55 and older. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of people older than 55 accessing some type of homeless service in Clark County increased by 34 percent to 1,187 individuals. In 2022, 149 of those people were more than 70 years old, according to Council for the Homeless data.

People who identify as LGBTQ+, children and young adults, survivors of domestic violence and people of color are also populations vulnerable to homelessness, panelists said.

People of color made up 44 percent of the homeless population in Clark County in 2022.

Mercedes Zahler, who works for Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health, said it can be more difficult for people to receive help with housing and health care if they don’t speak English. This is especially true with Clark County’s growing Chuukese community, which Zahler said is often overlooked.

“That’s one of many communities that don’t have an easy way of accessing the forms that need to be filled out,” Zahler said. “Oftentimes, they’re sent away or not given the services that they need because there is a barrier.”

Morgan Valentine, coordinated entry systems manager for Council for the Homeless, said the homeless response system needs to target historically underserved and underrepresented communities.

“We are seeing some disparities in terms of who is able to access short-term, long-term shelter, who is able to access programs, who is able to access services,” Valentine said. “You have to look at language, just all of those pieces, checking bias, all of those things are so critical.”

The panelists also spoke about the diversity of people experiencing homelessness.

McEnerny-Ogle mentioned meeting a young man who lived in a tent while attending Clark College. He was living with his grandmother before she died, McEnerny-Ogle said, and lost his housing.

“All of those individuals have a number of different reasons for being homeless,” she said.

Housing advocates have set goals to eliminate veteran, family and chronic homelessness in the next five to 10 years. But ending homelessness entirely is a lofty feat.

“How long will it take to get out of homelessness? At least another decade,” McEnerny-Ogle said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct agencies that convened the roundtable.

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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.