Some big questions linger about Vancouver’s first sanctioned campsite for people experiencing homelessness, but city officials answered one Monday: who will run it.
Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to sign Outsiders Inn, a Vancouver nonprofit, to run day-to-day operations at the campsite. The nonprofit will keep the site clean, help stabilize residents to eventually find housing and be a liaison for neighbors.
The campsites – three total are planned in a pilot program – are an attempt to help unhoused residents access services and more safe places to shelter. Jamie Spinelli, homeless resources coordinator for the city, said enlisting Outsiders Inn brings Vancouver closer to launch.
“It’s for sure a big job,” Spinelli said.
The city will pay Outsiders Inn $571,148 for the one-year contract. Spinelli said Outsiders Inn was the sole applicant.
The nonprofit, meanwhile, is poised to grow steadily after bustling through the last year and a half. It took over full-time a 30-person shelter at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and also mail services for unhoused residents after Vancouver’s Navigation Center permanently closed in the pandemic.
Founded in 2016, Outsiders Inn leaders tout an intimate knowledge of homelessness. They hire and train formerly homeless individuals to become peer support staff. Directors Adam Kravitz and Ren Autrey lived unhoused for stretches of their lives.
“We’ve navigated these services and been part of them as they’ve changed,” Kravitz said. “I think people we are serving recognize that.”
Kravitz and Autrey, who run the organization from their home, said they plan to hire and train a handful more people for the site – people who must either have experienced homelessness or been in recovery. The on-site support staff jobs will pay $19 an hour, according to city documents.
“We want to find those stars among us that don’t even know they’re stars,” he said. He noted Outsiders Inn regularly uses volunteers who could readily jump to a staff job.
That firsthand knowledge is valuable, Spinelli said.
“An organization like that is now going to be able to step in and provide the kinds of support that they either got or wish they had when they were going through those experiences,” she said. “I think there’s just nobody better to provide those services than people who have experienced it themselves.”
While the hiring was a prerequisite for the city to launch the campsites, the facilities still only exist on paper. The city hasn’t announced an opening date, nor locations. The city announced the campsite program in May.
Spinelli said enlisting Outsiders Inn made sense as a step before finalizing a location.
“I did want to be able to allow Outsiders Inn to weigh in,” she said. “Maybe some sites that I think could work, I would like to be able to walk Outsiders Inn through and see what their perspective is.”
City leaders have acknowledged that finding a spot for the campsite is the hardest piece. The Navigation Center – the city’s last major foray into homeless services – unraveled after months of pressure from neighbors, who grew frustrated it attracted hundreds of people then closed at night with few places for them to go.
When launched, the campsites will support about 20 tents each, Spinelli said, which could potentially house couples. For people with tents, it would be available around the clock.
It’s still unclear what sort of barriers will be put in place. Shelters often place requirements on what kind of clientele they welcome. For example, some shelters may serve women and children exclusively, disallow drugs and alcohol, or turn away pets.
City officials estimate at least 500 people live in tents or vehicles in Vancouver.