When a fire struck Share House late on July 30, it initially seemed like damage was minimal and that the men’s shelter would reopen in just a few days. More than three weeks later, the men’s homeless shelter in downtown Vancouver is still closed for repairs, and it’s unclear when it will reopen.
“We’re not envisioning that we would be open before September,” said Amy Reynolds, deputy director of Share, the nonprofit running the shelter. “And even that isn’t a firm date.”
The Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office determined an improperly discarded cigarette sparked the fire in a third-floor bedroom. The two men who share the room weren’t inside at the time. The fire was confined to the room, but water — from the sprinkler system and responding fire trucks — damaged every floor in the shelter, Reynolds said.
“It’s been a lot more than we expected, but we’re just so grateful that nobody was hurt,” she said.
Fully drying out the building took a couple of weeks, and a dehumidifier was still running on Thursday. SERVPRO is the primary restoration company working on the building and with insurance adjusters. Holes were drilled into the bottom of walls to help dry out the building, and those holes have to be patched up with fireproof material and the baseboards redone. Much of the vinyl flooring was removed for this process, and other tiles buckled from the water damage; flooring and ceiling panels have to be replaced.
More importantly, the building’s fire control panel is not functional or up to code and needs to be swapped out for a new one.
“That is the main reason why there’s nobody in this building,” Reynolds said.
An unrelated leak needs to be fixed in the cafeteria and the ceiling patched before Share House can resume its hot meals program, which serves nearly 92,000 meals annually to people in need. The nonprofit has been preparing brown bag meals in the interim, and grassroots groups have provided additional meals.
Up to 40 men have been temporarily staying a few blocks away at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Reynolds said the men who were staying at Share House were concerned they were going to be asked to leave St. Paul and be displaced again. Share continues to weigh the ease of completing repair work while Share House is empty with the need to return residents back to the shelter.
“It’s pretty scary when you felt unstable in your housing before and you’re staying in a shelter — and then that became unstable,” she said. “We still don’t have the biggest answer that everybody wants to know, which is when can they come back in to stay.”
Other people may be camping or staying with friends; a few residents with disabilities were able to secure housing.
“It’s been a tough experience,” said Jeffrey Kaiser, who began staying at Share House in May.
After the fire, he went to St. Paul and is grateful to have a bed there but feels the environment is getting tense.
“It’s hard on us physically and it’s hard on us emotionally,” Kaiser said, adding that he’d like to be informed more about the ongoing restoration process.
Those staying at St. Paul have to leave early in the morning because the church hosts as a day care center there on weekdays. About half of the men are shuttled in a 15-passenger van to Share Orchards Inn, where they hang out during the day. Shelter staff have also shuttled between the two temporary locations. However, there are planned renovations at Orchards Inn and Share’s other family shelter, Share Homestead in Hazel Dell.
Kaiser said he raised concerns about smoking violations with Share staff before the fire. On June 15, he wrote about his concerns on Share’s Facebook page and noted that he woke up to a roommate smoking a cigarette in bed. Whenever Share House reopens, he’d like to see the rules be more strictly enforced.
“People certainly do break rules and that can be a reason why a person is exited,” Reynolds said.
Smoking is not allowed. Staff determined no one was smoking in the room where the fire occurred and that the fire was an accident, Reynolds said.
The former Share House, built in the late 1800s, was destroyed by arson in 1996 and rebuilt in 1999. It is the only year-round shelter for single men in Clark County.