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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Vancouver’s third Safe Stay ‘right exactly what we expected — calm and quiet and stable’

By , Columbian staff reporter
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Employees at Express Cleaners across the street from downtown Vancouver's pallet-shelter community said it hasn't affected their business at all.
Employees at Express Cleaners across the street from downtown Vancouver's pallet-shelter community said it hasn't affected their business at all. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Neighbors of Vancouver’s third Safe Stay — known as 415 West for its address on 11th Street downtown — had concerns about how the opening of the transitional housing community in November would affect their businesses. Two months later, owners and employees say the community is generally quiet and residents keep to themselves.

Seng Thov, who works at Express Cleaners across the street from 415 West, said employees were a little worried about the Safe Stay at first, but it hasn’t affected their business at all.

“It’s been very quiet,” he said. “We haven’t had any problems.”

Last year, David Fuller, owner of the Hamilton-Mylan Funeral Home, said he was concerned that the transitional housing would deter people from choosing his business. But his business remains steady at about the same level as before, he said.

People experiencing homelessness still wander around the funeral home, but he doesn’t believe they’re from 415 West because they carry all their possessions, including tents, with them.

The city’s ban on camping within 1,000 feet of the Safe Stay has actually resulted in fewer people camping near his business, he said.

“I haven’t seen anybody camped out. I don’t think we’re seeing people squatting in our yards like we used to. We still see people wandering, but we’re not seeing the people on the property,” he said.

Tim Murray, co-owner of the nearby Columbia Street Jewelry & Estate, said the Safe Stay has had no effect on his business and experienced no issues with it.

“They’re keeping it clean. There’s no vehicles parked out there. Time will tell,” he said.

‘A drop in the bucket’

Sallie Reavey, owner of Briar Rose Inn, was especially upset about the prospect of a Safe Stay near her cozy bed and breakfast. She spoke at Vancouver City Council meetings and met with other concerned neighbors last year.

She’s owned the inn since 2006, investing much of her savings into the business, which provides her retirement income.

“This is my life’s passion,” she said.

But over the years, a homeless camp began to grow near her business. And as she walked her dog around downtown Vancouver, she began passing people in mental health crises, talking to themselves or yelling. She began to worry whether this would deter customers seeking a homey get-away.

“I had guests the two previous nights, and they said, ‘Oh jeez, somebody was screaming in the middle of the night,’ ” Reavey said.

So far, she hasn’t noticed the Safe Stay’s proximity having an effect on her business. Nothing has gotten worse since it opened, she said, but nothing has improved either. She still wishes the city had found another location.

She’s happy residents of the Safe Stay are getting help, but she still sees many people from nearby camps wandering the streets.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, when you think about all the homeless people,” she said. “This is going to help a few people, but it’s a little, tiny Band-Aid on a great big, huge problem.”

Residents receiving care

Adam Kravitz runs Outsiders Inn, the nonprofit that operates 415 West as well as the city’s first Safe Stay, The Outpost, at 11400 N.E. 51st Circle.

He said staff members have received few complaints about the downtown Safe Stay, and they work with neighbors to correct any issues. Some people may have noticed emergency services at the Safe Stay a few times, he said, but that was for medical emergencies.

The Safe Stay has cameras with views of all four streets around it and staff walk the perimeter of 415 West five times a day to make sure it looks clean.

“It’s been right exactly what we expected — calm and quiet and stable,” he said.

Mostly, people stay in their pallet shelter, he said, enjoying the warmth of its heater and the privacy it provides them. Many of the residents have been homeless for years, so they’re settling into stability.

A number of residents have accessed services to address substance-use disorders, as well as their mental and physical health. All residents now have medical insurance, and many have attended their first doctor’s appointment in decades, Kravitz said. Several people have become employed.

“The sign that it doesn’t look like much is going on is the sign that there’s a lot going on,” he said.


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct when Sallie Reavey opened Briar Rose Inn.

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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.

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