Cassie Sorensen has noticed that the women who stay at her overnight shelter are trending older and they tend to be more medically fragile. The 18 women at Share’s Women’s Housing and Transition, also called the WHAT shelter, can’t go inside until 6:30 p.m. and have to leave by 7:30 a.m.
“I feel tired all of the time,” said client Elaine Dove, who has health issues.
Two years ago, the shelter’s host, St. Luke’s-San Lucas Episcopal Church, approved letting the shelter stay open 24 hours. Sorensen, the shelter’s program director, said the only holdup has been lack of funding.
That could change soon if the nonprofit homeless service provider receives money from Vancouver’s affordable housing fund. The nonprofit is among six applicants vying for some of the $300,000 available to shelters in the city.
In total, applicants in August submitted nearly $1.8 million in requests, which they say reflects the need for more shelter beds.
“I think shelter is a significant need in our community. It’s certainly not the only need,” said Amy Reynolds, deputy director of Share.
Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless, is pleased to see so many organizations working together to increase shelter and rehabilitate existing shelter infrastructure. The applications also reflect the size of the community, she said. Vancouver doesn’t have the resources of larger cities, so tackling homelessness requires collaboration.
Help in healing
At the 18-bed Women’s Housing and Transition, Share shelters a hard-to-serve population with a 26 percent success rate of moving into housing. Having the shelter open 24/7 can provide clients with more individualized attention and give them the security of knowing they have a place to stay during the day, Reynolds said. That success rate could improve.
Dove said she would have more mental energy to focus on the future and getting into housing if she wasn’t so preoccupied with spending her days outside. Some people at the shelter have experienced domestic violence and assault, she said, and they’re trying to heal physically, emotionally and mentally.
“Some of the women are so discouraged,” Dove said. If the shelter was open all day, it would boost morale and camaraderie among the women, she said.
It would have some simpler benefits, too; there wouldn’t be such a rush for showers and laundry at night. Dove said she does her laundry at the Vancouver Navigation Center so she can maximize the amount of rest she gets at the shelter.
Currently, there are only eight 24-hour shelter beds for women in Clark County. There is a 30-bed men’s shelter in downtown Vancouver (which is currently closed due to damage from a fire).
“It would be nice to see more equitable services for women,” Sorensen said.
Females make up 45 percent of Clark County’s homeless population.
Funding from the city would help pay for staffing, administration, additional rent and utilities. Sorensen said they would be able to add meal services at the shelter, too.
SafeChoice is located in an old building that’s been repurposed for shelter use, said Leah Greenwood, director of property and asset management at Vancouver Housing Authority, which owns the domestic violence shelter. It’s run by YWCA Clark County in an undisclosed location.
Greenwood said the housing authority is working on a holistic renovation plan that would both upgrade the building, bring all spaces into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, increase safety and security, and add four rooms comprising 11 beds.
“It’s a combination of general building renovation and then the expansion,” she said.
Greenwood acknowledged that $1.1 million is a large ask. The housing authority wanted to fully plan the work that needs to be done and will complete it in phases if needed, depending on how funding shakes out.
The facility at St. Paul Lutheran Church that houses homeless men every winter was originally built in the early ’60s as a Sunday school.
“It wasn’t built to accommodate 40 guys,” said Geri Hiller, the lay minister who heads the church’s Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter.
St. Paul is located at 1309 Franklin St. in downtown Vancouver. It submitted two applications to the city: one for $100,000 to make building improvements such as replacing the windows and building a shower and a half-bathroom, and another for $200,000 to turn the winter shelter into a year-round shelter.
Share would supply staffing for the year-round shelter, which is included in the financial ask, Hiller said.
“We’re all wanting to do the same thing, to address the homelessness and make it better,” she said.
Pursuing peer mentors
Many amazing people have gone through Xchange Recovery’s programs, said Vicky Smith, pastor and program director. Xchange is known for its Faces of Hope campaign and work with the Clark County Jail’s re-entry program. The nonprofit has been around since 2003 and operates a recovery center off state Highway 502 near Battle Ground.
Its graduates are the ones who best understand the struggles of those who are homeless and dealing with addiction or mental health issues, Smith said. Her faith-based organization is asking the city for $121,802 to place certified peer mentors and recovery coaches in three of its houses in Vancouver.
“Who better than somebody who’s walked that path?” Smith said. “People don’t aspire to be homeless. They don’t aspire to have drug or mental health issues that bring them to the point of despair.”
Peer mentors can give people a hand up and help move them toward recovery and stability.
Although Xchange is faith-based, Smith said her organization helps anyone regardless of religious affiliation.
The nonprofit is doing fundraising to help pay for peer mentors, estimated to cost a total of $344,092. Smith said Xchange is also leveraging several partnerships.
More for motel vouchers
Council for the Homeless has for a long time temporarily sheltered vulnerable households in hotels through its motel voucher program. Budd, the executive director, has noticed that police are using the vouchers more often than in previous years.
If police come across someone deemed extremely vulnerable to dying on the street, they can use a voucher to put that person in a hotel. The program, which is accessible through the Housing Solutions Center, becomes imperative during the cold winter months, she said.
Recently, a police officer came across a single mother with four children, including one child that was just a few weeks old, who were staying in a broken-down car; the motel voucher program allowed the family time to recoup and plan next steps.
Council for the Homeless is requesting $50,000 to expand the number of vouchers used at four motels throughout Vancouver. The council already receives some funds from Clark County.
“Having motel vouchers increases the overall capacity of emergency shelter,” Budd said.
It’s also a flexible way to increase shelter. Maybe one night, there’s a need to shelter 40 households and another night just a few. It can expand and contract as needed, unlike a traditional shelter, Budd said.