The city could look to sell the former day center to Fort Vancouver Regional Library, just four years after buying it
VANCOUVER — The experiment that was the Vancouver Navigation Center appears to officially be over.
At least inside the building at 2018 Grand Boulevard in central Vancouver.
The city purchased the 2.5-acre property in 2017 for $4.3 million, with the goal of creating a one-stop-shop of homelessness resources, including a day center with showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities.
Neighbors quickly complained, citing a sharp increase in illegal activity both on the Navigation Center property, and in the surrounding area.
An outside review also cited numerous concerns with a lack of oversight, and a low barrier approach to allowing people to enter and leave the day center, which was operated by Share until early 2020.
Following that report Share pulled out of managing the site, leaving the city to take over day-to-day operations while searching for a new operator.
Then, the pandemic struck, prompting the city to close down the day center in March of last year. Today it is open only two hours per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays for people to pick up mail delivered to the site.
Currently, the site is leased to SeaMar, as well as Fort Vancouver Regional Library (FVRL), which needed a new administrative headquarters following a water main break that caused massive flooding of their existing home at 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd in October of last year.
On Monday, Vancouver City Council members gave their blessing to city staff to enter negotiations with the library on a possible purchase of the Grand Blvd site, which is valued at $4.325 million. The agreement would also designate that any proceeds from the sale would be set aside for use in providing homeless services in some other capacity.
“We believe this would be a very compatible use with the neighborhood,” said Vancouver Parks Director Julie Hannon during a presentation, “but would also confirm that and do troubleshooting of issues as we do the public outreach.”
Should that sale go through, the city would look to repurpose the existing library building, which is on the National Register of Historic spaces, for either for a community arts center, a business incubator site, or other community-focused purpose.
What happens there would need to be done in concert with the library system, which currently holds a lease on the site through 2030.
Hannon said the estimated cost to get the current library building repaired and up to code, along with asbestos abatement, would run approximately $6.5 million, though some of that would likely come from an insurance payout for the damage caused in the flooding.
Future homeless resources up in the air
While all of the city council members, along with Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, expressed support for the idea of selling the Grand Blvd building and working with the library on repurposing the former administration building, they also noted that focus needs to shift to what comes next in terms of providing services for the area’s homeless population.
“My concern is, where do we go with the day center from here?” asked Councilor Bart Hansen. “We’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into it. Maybe this wasn’t the right site. Maybe there needs to be another site.”
In its report on the Navigation Center, the Alpha Project, a San Diego-based homeless nonprofit, recommended an increase in 24-hour shelter space, noting that day centers can tend to increase foot traffic unless rules are strictly enforced, including keeping records of who is coming and going.
“I think that we learned that when you gather people together and then have nowhere for them to go at five o’clock at night, that’s not a successful model,” said Councilor Linda Glover. “I think we have learned that there are models that are successful, and we’ll have to continue pursuing those.”
Councilor Erik Paulsen said he supported the idea of setting aside money from a sale of the Grand Blvd building to be used on homeless services, but urged city staff to ensure that the funds are clearly marked, and that the community is fully informed when they are spent, and what they were spent on.
“Any conversation in the future that considers usage of those funds (must) be explicitly stated as such,” said Paulsen. “So identifying them as the proceeds of that sale, and being very explicit about that, so that it’s transparent to everybody involved.”
Vancouver and Clark County recently formed a Joint Executive Council on Homelessness, with the goal of setting a regional approach to homelessness services. Councilor Ty Stober, who sits on that council, said conversations thus far have centered only on a framework, and not around potential new sites for any shelters, day centers, or homeless services.
“It’s been proposed by council member (Gary) Medvigy that we focus on the visible homeless population or community,” said Stober. “So if that is the kind of strategy that we take, and focus in that area, then I would assume how we provide daytime programming would follow down that pathway.”
Following Monday’s meeting, the city will enter negotiations with FVRL to create a proposed purchase and sale agreement, which would come back before the City Council for final approval sometime later this year.