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News / Clark County News

Formerly houseless Vancouver man finds a new home and a fresh start after leaving downtown Safe Stay

Man who had been homeless since August looks forward to cooking, helping friends at Safe Stay

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: March 29, 2024, 6:03am
6 Photos
Jp Walmer receives a cake on his last day at 415 West, the downtown Vancouver transitional housing pod for people experiencing homelessness.
Jp Walmer receives a cake on his last day at 415 West, the downtown Vancouver transitional housing pod for people experiencing homelessness. (Alexis Weisend/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

You may have seen Jp Walmer’s name a few times in The Columbian over the past year. Columbian reporters met him on his first day of homelessness when it was 103 degrees Aug. 14 in Vancouver. We were also there for his last day of homelessness.

Last week, Walmer, 71, moved into permanent housing in Vancouver’s Lincoln neighborhood with a roommate and an old dog and cat.

“I’m just looking forward to taking a big, deep breath and getting my life back together,” he said while sitting on the couch in his new home. “It’s been awhile.”

Walmer’s troubles began when he cashed in his retirement savings to start a pet photography business that didn’t work out.

Then, he tried to start a business selling hand-crafted wooden pipes. He sold them at markets but didn’t make much money.

In August, Walmer received a 72-hour notice from his landlord he needed to vacate his apartment. He couldn’t afford to move anywhere else. His only income was $1,200 monthly from Social Security payments. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Clark County is $1,610 a month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

So he moved all of his possessions into a storage unit and set up camp near Vancouver City Hall. There, he mostly kept to himself and spent his days reading library books, taking walks and trying to ignore the incessant construction sounds coming from the waterfront.

Walmer could always be found with a smile on his face or whizzing past traffic on his bike in downtown Vancouver. Although he did his best to stay positive throughout tough times, self-doubt would creep in when he least expected it.

He said he’d lie awake in his tent at 3 a.m. asking himself, “Are things going to get better?” And he wasn’t sure.

But when the city cleared the camp to make way for development there, Walmer got on a waitlist for 415 West, one of the city of Vancouver’s transitional housing pods. He moved into one of the shedlike shelters the day it opened, Nov. 20.

He helped his neighbors at the camp move into the Safe Stay. Those same neighbors shed tears as he held a cake reading, “Congratulations JP!” on the day he left.

After seven months of homelessness, he said he’s most looking forward to cooking again and volunteering at the Safe Stay.

“I just want to enjoy myself. I want to keep connected with the people I’ve met down there and see how they’re doing,” he 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.

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