A Message from City Manager Eric Holmes
Originally published in the City's email newsletter, Vancouver Connects, on Sept. 1, 2021
This is a significant time of change for Vancouver: our city is growing, and we are investing in essential services—such as parks, streets, utilities, and public safety—to serve the community. The impacts of the pandemic have been challenging for Vancouver households and businesses, impacting some more than others similarly to what communities across the nation have seen. The overall economic recovery from the pandemic has been stronger than anticipated so far, and assistance from the federal government has helped this happen.
Through all these dynamics, there is a broad concern about homelessness in Vancouver. Many of us see some of our most vulnerable residents living unsheltered in the heat and cold and needing support and stabilization as they seek a pathway forward. Some are experiencing homelessness because of a lack of affordable housing or employment security, while others struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. As with many other cities, homelessness in Vancouver is reaching crisis proportions.
The significant humanitarian concerns are compounded with the impact homelessness is having on livability in our community. Our residents’ concerns about safety, trash, waste, fire hazards and more are real, and I share those concerns.
As we seek ways to address homelessness in Vancouver, it is important to understand the laws around homelessness. In a landmark legal decision that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court (Martin v. Boise, 2019), homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property when there is an absence of adequate alternatives such as shelter space. In Vancouver and Clark County, there is insufficient shelter to house all individuals experiencing homelessness. Consequently, camping in the city—within certain limits—is legal.
Within this context, and to address the immediate challenges of homelessness, the City of Vancouver is pursuing three approaches simultaneously:
Establish safe and supported campsites for the most vulnerable: City Council recently endorsed a plan to pilot a temporary supportive campsite program for the next two to three years to address most immediate needs.
The pilot project envisions supportive campsites at different locations across the city, serving up to 40 people per site (20 individual tents). Managed 24/7 by a nonprofit on-site operator, the campsites will have screening or fencing, will provide sanitation and hygiene services, and will have limited health services on site.
The process of identifying potential locations for the supportive campsites on publicly owned land throughout the city is underway. Location guidelines include dispersing supportive campsites equitably throughout the city, avoiding areas with heightened economic vulnerability, and availability of public transit. We are engaging with residents, businesses, nonprofits, and other community stakeholders in finding sites that have the best chance of aiding our unhoused residents while mitigating the concerns that commonly surround unmanaged homeless encampments.
We anticipate the temporary program will facilitate up to three campsites this year, providing support to approximately a quarter of the estimated unsheltered population in Vancouver. The program will not resolve homelessness in our community, but we believe it’s an avenue toward alleviating some of the most severe impacts to people and place.
The process of shaping the program continues. I encourage you to stay informed on our progress and provide feedback.
Expand permanent bridge shelter capacity: Through a collaboration between the City of Vancouver, Clark County and the Vancouver Housing Authority, Clark County is opening the first expansion of shelter capacity in decades with Bertha Cain Baugh Place—the conversion of an existing motel into a new 65 bed bridge shelter. The City is seeking further opportunities like this with our partners in Southwest Washington to add capacity to the homeless crisis response system led by Clark County.
Increase the supply of income-based housing: Affordable and income-based housing continues as a long-term priority for the City. The Affordable Housing Fund passed by voters in 2016 has delivered more than 470 affordable housing units and prevented 796 households from falling into homelessness. In 2020, the City Council passed a new 1/10% sales tax dedicated to affordable housing and services for the most vulnerable such as veterans, seniors, youth, domestic violence survivors and people with disabilities or behavioral health disabilities.
On Sept. 13, City staff is scheduled to provide the next update to City Council with a first reading of proposed changes to camping ordinances that will allow for the pilot program to advance. The council meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and you can watch on CVTV or via the City’s Facebook page.
To learn more about the City’s efforts to address homelessness, ask questions, and share ideas and personal stories, visit www.beheardvancouver.org/homelessness-response.