Seven months after the Navigation Center opened in central Vancouver and started offering services to people experiencing homelessness, neighbors are complaining that they were misled by the city about what the center would mean for their homes and businesses.
Nearby residents claim their once-quiet neighborhood is now unrecognizable. Among their list of grievances: people harassing them on the sidewalks, dealing and ingesting drugs in plain sight, and defecating on their property.
A Vancouver Police Department study of the surrounding neighborhood suggests that crime in the area remained steady following the opening of the shelter. However, criminal activity now seems to be centered closely around the day center’s location at 2108 Grand Blvd.
Rachel Weber was the first of nine people who sat before the city council Monday and explained how the character of their neighborhood had changed since the Navigation Center opened.
“Eighteen months ago, I attended a hearing here for the proposed day center,” Weber said.
“Since then, I have created a group of over 200 people in the immediate 10-block radius that have been affected,” Weber continued.
At home, her vantage point faces toward Walmart, across the street from the day center. From there she watches people take drugs intravenously two to three times a week, she said.
“The citizens in the community are getting angry. I can feel the tension rising. Every single day, it is stressful for me to even get out of my car and get into my house,” Weber told the council. “I really think that the day center needs to be re-evaluated. It is mismanaged, mostly because there’s not enough staff involved that are qualified.”
Stacie Marshall, owner of the nearby Fabulous Flippin’ Treasures – Vintage Mall, said that her business had been suffering since November, and that it wasn’t the only business in the area struggling. People experiencing homelessness would pitch tents outside her door during business hours, she said.
“I’ve lost so many customers that will not come back,” Marshall said. “My average daily sales are down 40 to 60 percent since that Navigation Center moved in.”
The center’s mission
Located at the intersection of Grand and East Fourth Plain boulevards, the Vancouver Navigation Center opened its doors in November and is operated by Share. Seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the center offers critical emergency services to people experiencing homelessness — restrooms, showers, laundry, storage, clothing, phone-charging stations and an address to send mail.
In November Olivia Resnick, who at the time served as outreach coordinator for Share and oversaw the day center, told The Columbian that the center is designed to be a safe and welcoming space for anyone experiencing homelessness, whether or not they’re ready to seek out long-term housing solutions.
“As long as we’re a welcoming space, then we’re doing a good job,” she said upon the shelter’s opening.
The day center’s new manager did not return The Columbian’s request for comment Tuesday.
City leaders started considering the possibility of a large, multi-use space that would provide resources and connections to people experiencing homelessness several years ago.
They met with the neighborhood associations from Maplewood, Rose Village, Central Park, Harney Heights and Fourth Plain Village to draft a Good Neighbor Commitment, a document that lays out the expectations and responsibilities of the city in managing the center.
Last updated on March 22, the document specifies that Share is responsible for running the navigation center, including security staff on the property during operating hours. The Vancouver Police Department would continue to enforce existing trespassing and loitering laws surrounding the center, the document states. The city also promises to continue collaborating with the neighborhood associations and responding to their concerns.
The full Good Neighbor Commitment is available at the Navigation Center’s website, at www.cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/vancouver-navigation-center.
What the stats say
In April, Mayor Pro Tem Bart Hansen commissioned a study from the Vancouver Police Department analyzing crime patterns in the five neighborhoods surrounding the Navigation Center: Central Park, Fourth Plain Village, Harney Heights, Maplewood and Rose Village.
The study compared the frequency and location of crimes committed around the neighborhoods from July 2018 to November 2018 — the four months before the center opened — to the same statistics from November 2018 to March 2019, the four months immediately after the center opened.
The study, conducted by Crime Analyst Jaycee Elliot, looked specifically at cases of aggravated assault, arson, commercial and residential burglary, vehicle theft, robbery, sexual assault and general theft.
Elliot concluded that crime didn’t go up as a result of the Navigation Center — in fact, it dropped slightly, from 159 offense incidents to 150.
But heat maps showing where crime occurred indicate a major shift. Prior to the Navigation Center opening, criminal calls sprawled across the five neighborhoods with smaller clusters of crime spread evenly across East Fourth Plain Boulevard, in the southern portion of Rose Village and the northern portion of Harney Heights.
After the center opened, crime calls congregated in a dense hot spot at the intersection of Grand and East Fourth Plain — the location of the Navigation Center. The frequency of calls elsewhere in the neighborhoods cooled.
City Manager Eric Holmes sent the study to the city council. In his email, he indicated that the analysis showed good news.
“In general, the data suggests that crime declined in the period following opening of the navigation center. There can be many contributing factors, but it is encouraging that the first data review suggests a positive outcome,” Holmes wrote.
But for residents and business owners living and working inside that new hot spot, it can feel like the opposite. Diane Moore told the council Monday evening it felt like they’d diverted people experiencing homelessness to central Vancouver due to “not wanting them downtown, or in their (the council’s) own precious waterfront.”
“Our neighborhood used to be quiet, and a nice place to live,” Moore said. “You’ve taken that away from us.”