Homelessness in Southwest Washington is on the rise. On Wednesday, Clark County released its annual tally of people sleeping on the streets or in their cars.
The number of people experiencing homelessness jumped 18 percent since last year. That’s according to the annual point-in-time count, which identified 269 homeless individuals and families in Clark County on one night in January.
Council for the Homeless Executive Director Andy Silver believes the true number is much higher.
“There are some limitations,” said Silver about the point-in-time count, a mandated requirement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s definitely not an accurate number in the sense that it is impossible to find everyone in one night.”
But he said the report gives homeless service providers a good baseline and confirms what they’re already seeing.
“We would expect the number of people, families and individuals to continue to increase until we tackle the affordability issue in the housing market or invest more appropriately in homeless services in the meantime,” Silver said.
The rise of homelessness in the area also brings increased conflict with people who live and work in downtown Vancouver.
“What we’re seeing are the tensions that arise in a community when we don’t have places for people to sleep at night or to do basic life functions,” Silver explained.
At a recent Vancouver City Council meeting, several local business owners testified against increasing the camping ordinance hours. They said an increase in homelessness was harming their businesses.
Lee Rafferty, the executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, recently surveyed downtown business owners. She said nearly all of them were against extending the camping ordinance hours.
“There’s a huge cost here,” said Rafferty in her testimony to the council. “Yes, services do need to be offered, but not without regard to stakeholders. Please remember there are people investing in downtown.”
The current camping ordinance makes it legal to camp on publicly owned property from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. An organization called Concerned Humans Against Poverty would like to see that time frame extended by two hours.
“They don’t want to be there. They need help and we really need to find a solution,” said Brittini Allen, a co-founder of the group. “Whether it’s changing the camping ordinance or something different, the conversation needs to happen. What’s happening right now isn’t helping them.”
Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said the city will continue to discuss solutions and plans to hold upcoming workshops on the camping ordinance.