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News / Clark County News

Stepping stones to a home: Vancouver man finds affordable housing after living in his car

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: March 7, 2024, 6:04am
2 Photos
Adam Atchison lived in his car for almost a year before moving to the city of Vancouver&rsquo;s Hope Village transitional shelter. In October, he moved into an affordable unit.
Adam Atchison lived in his car for almost a year before moving to the city of Vancouver’s Hope Village transitional shelter. In October, he moved into an affordable unit. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The first meal Adam Atchison cooked in his new home was a rib-eye steak and a baked potato with all the fixings. But it was a long journey to get to that kitchen.

The Columbian first met Atchison in spring 2023 at one of the city of Vancouver’s transitional housing pods. It was a hot day, and he was standing in the shade, sipping from a can of soda.

Over the seasons, Atchison and The Columbian kept in touch. In January, during an unyielding rainstorm, The Columbian met with Atchison again. This time, he wasn’t outside seeking shelter from the weather. He was in his new residence, a shared living facility, built by Community Roots and operated by the nonprofit XChange Recovery. And he has a job as a peer counselor for the nonprofit Outsiders Inn, helping those who are in the position he once was.

“If there’s one thing that I would want people to know about the homeless, is have a heart. Because stereotypes and stigmas aren’t necessarily 100 percent accurate,” Atchison said. “If you take 10 minutes and get to know somebody, it could change their whole life.”

Stepping stone

Statistics about homelessness can be daunting. In February, 2,380 people in Clark County were homeless, according to a database maintained by Council for the Homeless. But the nonprofit also tracks those who work their way into some form of housing — 47 in January.

It took Atchison two years to reach that milestone.

When the pandemic hit, Atchison was living with his grandmother. Before vaccinations were an option, Atchison began couch-surfing with friends to protect his grandmother’s health.

Despite working a full-time retail job, rent was beyond his means. Atchison ended up living in his 2004 Chevrolet Malibu for almost a year. A study from the University of Chicago estimates that more than 40 percent of homeless people are employed.

“Living in my car, it was pretty dehumanizing because your whole life is on display,” Atchison said. “And because you live out on the street, everyone has this preconceived notion of who you are as an individual.”

Atchison said trying to survive each day creates monumental barriers.

“You can’t necessarily think about going to school or working a full-time job when you’re worried about staying warm and staying fed,” he said. “When you’re worried about those two things, I don’t think that it’s easy for anybody to be a contributing member of society.”

When he was living in his car, a family member connected him with staff from Hope Village, one of Vancouver’s Safe Stay pods of transitional-housing. He moved into Hope Village in February 2023.

“I look back on my time there fondly. There was a sense of community there,” Atchison said.

Moving out of Hope Village and into his current, affordable home took a lot of patience and determination, he said.

“It’s throwing darts at the board and just seeing what sticks,” Atchison said. “Because there isn’t one perfect solution for everybody. And you just have to keep going and advocate for yourself.”

Last summer, his case workers told him about a housing opportunity, but it got pushed back several times.

“Not giving up hope is a large portion of it,” he said. “And realizing that a lot of this stuff is out of your control, until it isn’t and you receive the phone call that you have a home.”

He described the moment he got the call that there was an affordable unit available for him as surreal.

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In October, Atchison moved into the shared complex with about a dozen other men. But despite moving, Atchison said he still visits his old neighbors at Hope Village to have coffee and hang out.

Atchison said that not a whole lot has changed in his life besides “having a roof over head and affordable rent.” He hopes to go to school for a degree in behavioral health.

“More than anything, I would say this is security that everything is going to be OK,” he said.

He said lived experience in his position aids him in helping others as a peer counselor.

“We know it’s darn difficult. But it can be done,” Atchison said. “We’re here to help you when it feels like the system is fundamentally broken — which it is — but while it feels like nothing’s being done, there are people that are trying to help you.”

Throughout each conversation with The Columbian, Atchison has carried the same message: Have compassion and stay open minded.

Eventually, Atchison would like to move into his own place.

“But right now, this is a great stepping stone,” he said. “I’m just enjoying being comfortable because it took a long time to get here.”

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.