The relocation of a controversial homeless day center in Vancouver is one step closer to approval.
A hearing examiner approved a request Friday that will allow the city of Vancouver to purchase a former state Fish and Wildlife building for $4.3 million.
The decision comes after a public hearing Dec. 19, where dozens of people testified, many in opposition to the project.
Residents and businesses near the proposed property believe a day center for the homeless will increase crime, litter, drug use and attract more homeless camps. Others complained that their home values will be decreased and that the day center would discourage development in an area that is already struggling economically.
In her decision, Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice wrote that community opposition was “best characterized as generalized community displeasure primarily based on stereotypes rather than on professional experience.”
Rice went on to add that the concerns voiced at the hearing cannot alone justify a local land use decision.
“Courts have found that there is an important distinction between well-founded fears and those based on inaccurate stereotypes and popular prejudices,” she wrote.
Council for the Homeless Executive Director Andy Silver was pleased with Rice’s reasoning and was excited to hear that the day center had received a green light.
“I think she did a great job of separating facts, data and evidence from fear and just gut reaction,” Silver said.
He believes the facility will serve as an access point to permanent housing and could actually reduce homelessness. Based on his agency’s research, among people who receive access to housing assistance, 86 percent hadn’t returned to homelessness in two years.
“By placing this access in that neighborhood, you will get people back into housing,” Silver said.
The city plans to carve out 5,000 square feet of the existing 25,000-square-foot building and convert it into a day center that will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. The facility will offer basic services, like restrooms, showers, a place to charge cellphones, as well as mental health counseling and housing or employment assistance.
The current day center is located in a smaller location at the Friends of the Carpenter building in West Vancouver. Last year, it had to stop offering showers and restroom access to non-residents due to an overtaxed sewage system. The location was also in an area that no longer had access to public transportation after C-Tran discontinued a nearby bus line.
If the city approves the purchase, the day center would relocate to the new building in central Vancouver.
The Vancouver City Council will vote on whether or not to purchase the building at Monday’s council meeting.