Share House will reopen Monday after water damage from a July 30 fire shuttered the downtown men’s shelter, displacing 58 homeless men.
Many of them have been staying a few blocks away at St. Paul Lutheran Church, which will convert into a winter shelter come November. While repairs were being made at Share House, some went back to sleeping outside, and 13 moved into permanent housing.
Diane McWithey, Share’s executive director, said 42 residents will return to Share House, and Council for the Homeless will begin taking shelter referrals again.
McWithey said Share is in the process of permitting additional rooms in the building to house more people. They had previously been converted to bedrooms from offices but weren’t technically legal bedrooms because they didn’t contain smoke detectors.
This included the third-floor bedroom where the fire occurred; a smoke detector could have quickened notification. McWithey said the mistake was an oversight on her part.
“I learned a very valuable lesson about that,” she said. “I definitely should have asked some experts.”
The fire at 1115 W. 13th St. was reported at 10:50 p.m. July 30. The Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office determined an improperly discarded cigarette caused the fire.
“The person feels horrific, and I feel so bad for him because he’s really beating himself up,” said McWithey, who emphasized that the fire was an accident.
While the fire was contained to the bedroom, water damage from the sprinkler system and responding fire trucks damaged every floor in the shelter.
Drying out the building took a couple of weeks. Restoration work was extensive: repairing drywall, replacing ceiling tiles and flooring, patching and painting walls, replacing the back stairs, replacing electrical outlets, upgrading safety lighting, switching fluorescent lighting with LED lighting, and pressure washing and painting the front porch.
Although the fire panel has been fixed and is working, it’s not up to current code. Share is in the process of permitting a replacement panel.
The damage totaled $128,856, which was covered by insurance aside from a $5,000 deductible. A donor covered the deductible. RSV, Servepro and architect Jeffrey Lightheart (who is the father of Share employee Jessica Lightheart) were the main companies fixing Share House over the last couple of months.
“It’s been a long several months,” said resident Jeffrey Kaiser, who began living at Share House in May.
Since the fire, Kaiser has stayed at St. Paul, and he said communication between Share staff and residents hasn’t been solid. He’s excited but apprehensive to go back to Share House, saying he wants to return to a place that’s clean, safe and adheres to its own rules.
“The question I have is, what did we learn from this two-month ordeal?” Kaiser said.
He’s prepared for any kinks during the move back given that there is still some work left to be done at Share House. More broadly, he’s concerned about the structure, safety and security of the men’s shelter moving forward, questioning whether it will or should operate in the same way given what occurred.
Share House is the only year-round shelter for single men in Clark County. It was originally built in the late 1800s, destroyed by arson in 1996 and rebuilt in 1999.
Share’s hot-meals program, which operated out of Share House’s dining room, will likely resume in a week or two. The program serves 92,000 meals annually to those in need. While the kitchen was closed, staff served sack lunches and prepared crock-pot meals at St. Paul.