As the crisp, chilly weather of late fall edges towards winter and the potential for even harsher, less hospitable conditions, our sense of urgency at the City to address homelessness continues to heighten.
Early last month, I declared a homeless emergency in Vancouver to help expand and expedite our response to the growth in complexity and magnitude of this crisis. The declaration allows me to immediately issue emergency orders that streamline typical public processes and other decision-making protocols.
On Monday, Dec. 4, staff provided City Council with the first of what will be monthly situation reports on the City’s emergency declaration on homelessness. During the first 30 days of the declared emergency, the City focused immediately on activities that set a strong foundation for future actions. The entire Situation Report can be read on the City’s website at Emergency Declaration.
Key accomplishments include:
- The City’s Homeless Assistance and Resources Team (HART) members briefed all Vancouver Police patrol officers about the updated policy and procedures related to or involving unsheltered homelessness. The policy and procedures focus on engagement first and enforcement, if necessary, last, aligning the patrol’s response with HART’s processes and providing patrol greater clarity and more tools for responding to calls for service involving unsheltered homelessness.
- HART members also briefed CRESA dispatch about the new policy and procedures related to or involving unsheltered homelessness and how calls for service should be routed.
- HART conducted clean-ups in the area around Share House, in the lot to the south of City Hall, and on the north and south sides of the Mill Plain bridge west of Lincoln and in Burnt Bridge Creek
- Columbia River Mental Health is operating its behavioral health response team in the Fourth Plain Corridor.
- Clark County District Court approved an expansion of the Community Court program from half day to full day, once a week. Staff is working to identify a new court location that can accommodate the extended court hours.
New Service Provider for Safe Park Zone
On Dec. 4, City Council approved a contract between the City of Vancouver and service provider Thrive2Survive for management and operation of the City’s Safe Park program, located at the Evergreen Transit Center in east Vancouver. The Safe Park Zone serves as a temporary bridge for individuals and families living in vehicles while more permanent housing and shelter options are implemented and is one of few resources available for Vancouver law enforcement to directly refer into.
Having a dedicated and experienced site operator will help increase exits from Safe Park to housing and other positive outcomes. Increased throughput at Safe Park will reduce the number of households living in vehicles on public right of way and some of the negative environmental impacts associated with unsheltered homelessness.
Doubling Safe Stay Community Capacity
Prior to issuing the emergency declaration, the City opened two Safe Stay Communities for unhoused residents featuring 20 shelter units housing up to 40 people, and managed 24/7 by on-site nonprofit provider organizations. By mid-December, we will double the number of these facilities that provide sanitation and hygiene services alongside a range of health services such as health care, counseling, drug treatment and job assistance. On Monday, Nov. 20, we opened our third Safe Stay Community, located at 415 W. 11th Street. Along with offering warm, safe and stable temporary homes, the facility is also the first with on-site bathroom, shower and laundry facilities.
We’re also on schedule to open our fourth Safe Stay Community Dec. 15. The site, located at 4611 Main St. on property owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, is currently under construction. Like our third site, this one will feature 20 shelter units housing up to 40 people with bathroom and shower amenities.
As of Aug. 31, our Safe Stay Communities served a total of 186 people, helped 48 residents gain employment and placed 73 in stable housing. We look forward to increasing those numbers with the addition of the two newest Safe Stay Communities.
Improving established Safe Stay Communities
Our first two Safe Stay communities that opened in late 2021 and the spring of 2022 are now being equipped with bathroom and shower facilities as well. The improvements are expected to be installed and in use before Christmas. Since opening, residents have been using on-site portable hygiene and sanitation services along with memberships to the YMCA and shuttle service to other facilities to meet their hygiene needs.
If you would like to follow the activities related to the declaration and emergency orders, you can view a running list on our website. The page also includes frequently asked questions that we’ll continue to add to as needed.
While the issue is regional, the emergency declaration is only effective within Vancouver’s city limits. The City will continue to work with its regional partners on solutions. It won’t be easy, but with the emergency declaration, we look forward to building on our track record of successful programs aimed at addressing the impacts of homelessness on both our housed and unhoused neighbors.