Since the family shelter Share Orchards Inn closed for remodeling in July 2019, a lot has changed both inside and outside the shelter. It will reopen soon with a new look and new practices around COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
While the remodel increased the shelter’s capacity from 50 to 86 people, it will initially serve about half that due to the pandemic, said Amy Reynolds, the deputy director of Share.
“Just about everything is different in here,” Reynolds said.
The shelter on Northeast 102nd Avenue hadn’t undergone a substantial remodel since it was built in 1994. Nonprofit homeless service provider Share has operated the shelter since 1996; the building is owned by Vancouver Housing Authority.
“The whole center core of this was gutted and rebuilt,” said Dan Craig, the on-site superintendent with Team Construction, the general contractor for the project.
Even though it was designed and construction started pre-COVID, features of the revamped space increase clients’ privacy and make social distancing easier. Communal spaces shrank to make space for additional rooms. This includes two respite rooms for people who are unhoused and recovering from being in the hospital.
There are also two new private bathrooms.
“In theory, a person could take a bath and be by themselves, or a family could bathe their children without engaging with everyone else in that same space,” Reynolds said. “It’s just easier for people to be able to be themselves. We’re serving more and more clients who are transgender. We want people to be able to feel safe in this space.”
New metal beds and bunk beds increased the number of people who can stay in a room, and connecting doors allow the shelter to better accommodate large families.
Restructuring the space means there is less room to shelter additional people during the winter but more room for people year-round. There is still a communal dining room, play room and a new computer lab. A new bathroom off the dining room will allow people to wash up before meals.
“We’ll be doing meals in stages and during the lovely months having people eat outside and practice social distancing,” Reynolds said. “We used to have one long meal time and invite everybody to come, and it’s just not going to be that way for a while, maybe ever.”
The $1.7 million remodel also focused on making the building more accessible for people with disabilities, such as upgrades to restrooms, doorways and the fire alarm system, and making the space feel more homey.
“On a whole, the building is much, much more efficient,” added Nathan Bagent, construction project manager with Vancouver Housing Authority.
This includes a more sophisticated air system, lights that automatically turn off when no one is around and new high-efficiency water heaters.
Bagent said there were a couple of reasons the remodel took so long — nearly a year. The project shifted from one department at the housing authority to another. Much of the work was complex, such as relocating the kitchen. Issues from the original construction and years of breakdowns had to be fixed.
“Our design and our scope changed a few times to evaluate and better implement the needs of this facility,” Bagent said.
The budget for the project was initially set at $800,000 and ended up costing more than twice that amount; the housing authority’s board of directors had to approve the new budget.
Construction crews also experienced delays due to COVID-19.
“It was hard to get material delivery dates locked in,” Craig said. “Reduced hours at supply houses didn’t help.”
Doors, window blinds and cabinets were among the delayed materials. There were also restrictions on the number of people who could be in the building.
Reynolds said Share is asking a series of triage questions about how people are feeling before they come into the shelter. Those who were tested for the virus stayed at Motel 6 (the quarantine and isolation site for unhoused people) while Share awaited test results.
“It’s so hard to have this building and have so many people outside. We just have to figure out how to make it safe,” Reynolds said.
While the shelter was closed, Vancouver Housing Authority moved clients to apartment buildings. Those who could pay their own rent got to stay in the apartments while others found permanent housing elsewhere. Shelter staff continued to work with clients and oversaw the Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, which is slated to run through at least June 15. Some staff worked at the Women’s Housing and Transition shelter at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church that converted from an overnight shelter into a 24/7 shelter.
The delays with Share Orchards Inn scrapped the housing authority’s original plan to remodel one family shelter at a time.
Share’s other family shelter, Valley Homestead in Hazel Dell, closed earlier this spring. Vancouver Housing Authority is doing similar remodeling work with similar materials and installations to make maintenance and future repairs simpler, Bagent said.
That building was built in 1993 and is slightly smaller than Orchards Inn.
Initially, work was started in the winter while residents were still in the building. However, residents being there slowed down the process, and as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up people were anxious about having construction workers around.
The $1.2 million project will be completed in August.