Howard Johnson Hotel, across the street from the mall, is being purchased and set to become a shelter
Representatives of the Vancouver Housing Authority, the city of Vancouver, and Clark County held an online informational meeting Thursday night with business owners who work near where the VHA is planning to open a homeless shelter.
They are in the process of buying the Howard Johnson Hotel near Vancouver Mall in order to convert it into a continuous day shelter, with 24-hour, on-site management.
Concerns have been raised by area business owners regarding the proximity of the shelter to the mall, as well as other nearby businesses, since they learned of the planned shelter last week.
Officials are trying to ease those concerns.
“This is not going to be a site that is open for drop-in services. It is solely a shelter and solely there for people who are staying there,” said Michael Torres, community housing and development manager for the county.
It is not going to be a facility where people are sent to to get services on a daily basis, officials said.
“This is a 24-hour operation shelter,” added Torres. “What that really means is that people will not be arriving in the evening and leaving in the morning, looking for a place to be during the day. They might be leaving for work. But everyone who is at this shelter, they have a place to stay, they have their restroom facilities, they have, basically, what they need to be comfortable and to be safe.”
The VHA already operates three shelters in the region. Roy Johnson, the executive director of the VHA, acknowledged the hotel site would be the largest, with 63 rooms. Still, he said experience has shown that this will work.
“When we go into doing some of the different housing, no one around the neighborhood wants it there,” Johnson said.
Once it is there, he said, area residents and business owners see that their worst fears are not realized.
“It won’t be a site where people will be camping out. They won’t be hanging out, hoping to get in there. There’s not going to be anything on the building that shouts that it’s a shelter,” Johnson said.
The county is in the process of finding a service provider to manage the shelter. That would include monitoring the door 24 hours. Residents of the shelter would have to adhere to a code of conduct, if you will. That code will be determined once a provider is found.
Johnson added that the service provider will have a “good neighbor type of arrangement” with the area. Grounds around the hotel will be maintained, as well.
Those who use the shelter must go through the proper channels. A person seeking shelter would contact the Housing Solutions Center, which then would begin the screening process. There are also background checks; no sex offenders will be allowed in the shelter, officials said.
Also, this is not housing. It is a shelter. Guests will be restricted, limiting the number of people at the shelter.
Still, some business owners at the mall worry that a shelter with 63 rooms just across the street will mean more homeless people in the mall during the day. One noted that there already is a homeless problem in the area.
Some were upset that they only found out about the plan last week and there was no input from them nor area residents.
Colton Barton, who owns Livit Mobile in the mall, was one who voiced his opposition during the meeting. He said officials did not have specific answers to the concerns of his and many of the other business owners.
Hours after the meeting, he was still disappointed.
“As a resident, father, business owner, and taxpayer, I’m beyond shocked that this can be done without community approval,” Colton Barton said Thursday night.
“Sadly, the meeting was not an opportunity for us to discuss or to object,” Barton added. “If something as specific as a homeless shelter is going to be funded by the city and/or county through our tax dollars, we must have a voice.”
Officials noted that the meeting was not to determine whether the shelter was a good idea or not. Rather, it was the first of many meetings with the goal to work with the neighborhood.
In a letter to business owners last week, the VHA, county, and city said it is anticipated that the shelter will be in operation as long as there is funding, and that the funding is currently projected to last two to three years. Later, the shelter will be converted into affordable housing.
“The Vancouver Housing Authority has a lot of experience with shelters,” Torres said. “This is absolutely not an experiment.”
The next informational online meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting is for residents and business owners who live in the area. To ask for a link to the next meeting, email Carmen Nelson of the VHA at: firstname.lastname@example.org