A second sanctioned community for unsheltered residents is taking shape in the city of Vancouver.
On Monday, city officials identified where they intend to place their next “Safe Stay Community,” where people live in small, shed-like structures with on-site staff as part of the city’s broader plan to alleviate its homeless crisis.
The second location is slated for 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., a large parking lot where a skating rink once stood until the city bought the property in 2015. It’s about four miles west of the city’s first community, at 11400 NE 51st Circle, which opened Dec. 23.
Jamie Spinelli, Vancouver’s homeless response coordinator, said city staff are feeling confident about their efforts with the safe stay communities. A third site is still in the works.
“The first site is going even better than I had anticipated,” said Spinelli, whom the city hired to spearhead its homeless outreach. Spinelli has worked with Vancouver’s unhoused residents for years and, after joining the city, hatched the idea for the communities.
In its first seven weeks, Spinelli said, the first community hasn’t required any attention from police, firefighters or EMTs.
“I think we always had some trepidation about things like this but it’s even better than I thought, honestly,” she said.
Vancouver officials have in recent weeks laid the groundwork for the sister site.
In January, Vancouver City Council spent $402,105 on shelters from manufacturer Pallet Shelter. The city purchased enough of the shelters for its second and third locations. The shelters can run heat and electricity and house up to two people.
Outsiders Inn, a Vancouver-based nonprofit, runs the city’s first shelter site. On Feb. 7, councilors picked who will staff the second site. Living Hope Church, which has offered free food and showers year-round from its church about a mile away, won the $552,212 contract to run the site’s day-to-day operations for a year.
“We love to share hope for all — whether it’s the guy on the street that’s broken and hurting or the CEO,” said Brian Norris, associate pastor at the church. “The world’s a broken place and we just know that people need to know there’s hope. We’re all about encouraging folks.”
Living Hope plans to use the money mostly to hire caseworkers, Norris said. He said Living Hope will not mandate any religious aspect for the site’s residents. The church does plan on making sure residents are improving their lives — such as seeking substance abuse treatment, finding work or obtaining a driver’s license.
“We just want to see people grow and transition,” Norris said.
Neither site has a zero tolerance policy for alcohol use, Spinelli said, but the sites do push residents to make progress.
Two people have been evicted from the first site, which Spinelli said came after repeated warnings to stop unwarranted behavior. One resident, she said, continued to hoard items in and around the shelter, and another repeatedly blasted music late at night.
Between the contracts for on-site services and the costs of the shelters, Vancouver has spent at least $1.7 million on its Safe Stay communities so far.
Establishing the site does not require formal approval by Vancouver City Council. Like the first site, neighbors will have a chance to talk about the proposal at two upcoming meetings. Spinelli said the city has already started sending letters to homes within 1,200 feet of the site.
When asked, Spinelli said she didn’t expect many differences between the two. However, the first site was established at an existing homeless camp. Many of the residents there had been the same people camping in the cul de sac.
The second site, Spinelli noted, is entirely new. It’s located along a busier thoroughfare in Fourth Plain Boulevard. She said she expected to see people migrate from camps elsewhere in Vancouver to land one of the new shelters.
“We’ll fill in the blanks with people from other parts of town,” Spinelli said. “We want to make the biggest impact on what people visibly see and complain about.”