A new temporary camp next to Living Hope Church intended to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is also Vancouver’s first sanctioned homeless camp.
The city approached Living Hope with the idea and details were ironed out within a couple of weeks, said Associate Pastor Brian Norris.
Julie Hannon, Vancouver Parks and Recreation director, said the city is trying to react to the new conditions under the coronavirus pandemic and find community partners who have experience working with the homeless community. Living Hope has for years operated a food pantry, clothing closet and severe weather shelter, and offered meals and showers to the homeless community through its Live Love Center in central Vancouver.
“It’s been a smooth partnership, and we appreciate their willingness to give it a try,” Hannon said.
The city is paying for site staff, trash service, port-a-potties, water and electricity tied to use of the south parking lot at 2711 N.E. Andresen Road. The two-month, $42,490 contract is paid for by Community Development Block Grant coronavirus response funds, which are part of the CARES Act. It’s unclear what may happen after the two months.
Hannon said the camp “is more of a pilot program at this time, and we’ll see what happens as we move through this.”
The site opened a week ago and averages seven tents each night. It opens around 7 p.m.; people have to leave by 7:30 a.m.
“It gets seven to nine people off the streets and into a safer place,” said Patrick Quinlan, a longtime church member who’s overseeing the site.
He said the fenced-off area could fit 18 to 20 tents. Each tent is spaced out to help maintain social distancing, and the site is sectioned by men, women and couples.
“We’re certainly ready to take in some more campers at this point,” Quinlan said.
The aim is to keep people “clean, safe and out of harm’s way.” There are two port-a-potties and a hand-washing station; a shower trailer owned by Food with Friends is available four days weekly. The church provides some snack foods at night and quick breakfast items in the morning.
Norris said there are some obvious rules, such as no drugs, alcohol or fighting. Quiet time is 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. On-site security patrols the area day and night, though Norris acknowledged neighboring businesses had concerns about vandalism.
He said the temporary camp aligns with the mission of Living Hope Church to show people love, help move people forward in life and — as its namesake implies — provide hope.
For couples like Chris Winston and Mandi Holper, the camp is a safe place to sleep at night and store belongings during the day. They’re past clients of the Live Love Center.
“Leaving our stuff, I know it’ll be safe here,” Holper said.
Winston said the camp “is pretty mellow.” It feels more secure than being on the streets or in the woods. The couple also briefly parked at an encampment at Vancouver Mall, which shut down Wednesday, and before that stayed in a motel for several weeks.
Winston noted that a lot of people who are homeless are scared. Some are paranoid about the novel coronavirus; others don’t care, and many find it hard to maintain social distancing, he said.
“It’s great that people have a dedicated space to meet their very basic needs,” said Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless.
She pointed out that with the Navigation Center open for limited hours and its showers closed, the shower trailer at Living Hope Church is the only place where someone who’s homeless can shower for free. Those who used gym or community center showers aren’t able to access those facilities because they’re closed.
Council for the Homeless is trying to quickly get some of the county’s unsheltered population off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic.
Using a combination of grants, the nonprofit is paying for about 80 households to stay in motels throughout the community. Households are prioritized depending on their needs and health.
A January 2019 survey of Clark County’s homeless population found 487 people who were unsheltered.