One council member says his recent surprise visit to the center raised some serious concerns
VANCOUVER — This Thursday marks six months since a homeless day center operated by Share opened inside the Vancouver Navigation Center at 2018 Grand Boulevard. On Monday night, city staff, Vancouver Police Chief Jim McElvain, and representatives from Share will be asked to update the city council on how operations are going.
In documents posted online ahead of the work session, it’s clear operations at the day center have been more challenging than expected. ClarkCountyToday.com has chronicled numerous complaints from surrounding neighbors and business owners regarding a perceived rise in vagrancy, drug use, and crime in the area surrounding the Navigation Center. There have also been complaints that the open air nature of the day center makes for a difficult environment to control.
While Share does operate a program called Talkin’ Trash, which pays homeless individuals to walk the surrounding block picking up garbage, neighbors say they’ve seen human waste and discarded needles popping up in their own backyards, and homeless encampments flourishing in a wooded area south of the day center.
At the July 1 city council meeting, councilor Ty Stober said he recently went to the day center for a surprise visit.
“I went searching for a staff member to introduce myself and let them know I was in the facility. I found one and they couldn’t have been less interested,” Stober said, “and I was left to wander with the rest of the guests that day.”
Stober said his experience at the day center operated by Share was in stark contrast to operations that several of the council members visited in San Diego and Colorado. At The Alpha Project in San Diego, Stober said things were largely self-policed because people staying there knew a violation meant being banished for up to a week.
“The residents in Alpha Project’s programs largely self govern under a community code of conduct that emphasizes respect for one another,” said Stober. “And that philosophy is so strong, that it allows 300 men and women, some with pets, to live on bunk beds inside of one giant tent.”
Stober said those other programs also are one-stop, meaning services such as housing assistance, drug treatment, and medical services are usually on site. By contrast, he said there was only one outside service provider at the Vancouver Navigation Center during his visit and they sat in a closed office largely unnoticed.
Another thing that stood out to Stober was that the only apparent on-site activity that homeless individuals had available at the day center was a small television in the corner.
“Not that everyone doesn’t deserve to do something mindless every now and then, but there weren’t really any other activities being offered,” Stober told the rest of the council. “As someone else who has visited the facility put it to me, it feels like the staff of the city’s current contractor is running the facility just doing crowd control. And crowd control is not helping people achieve longer term goals.”
According to data put together by Share for Monday’s six-month update, daily use of the day center has far exceeded initial estimates. As of this week, the center has seen nearly 100 average daily visitors, up from less than 50 when it opened last November. That number is nearly double the city’s initial estimates for the shelter. That has left Share scrambling to adequately staff the facility, and thrown the anticipated annual budget out of whack.
The city has also had to pay a contractor for on-site security guards, and funding for one of those guards is just about exhausted only halfway through the year. According to documents, the city is hoping private donors will step up to fill the gap.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim McElvain will also provide an update on reports of crime at and around the day center. Neighbors say they’ve noticed a sharp uptick. Initial surface reviews of police reports around the area showed calls to 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 had increased in the area immediately around the day center, but overall crime appeared to be largely unchanged. McElvain ordered a more in-depth analysis.
In that analysis, the department looked at calls for service within a quarter mile of the day center. The analysis looked at reports from December of 2017 through May of last year, then compared that against the six months leading up to the day center’s opening, and the six months following the opening.
Immediately around the day center, calls for service were up 131-percent from period 1 to period 3. That tracked fairly closely with offense reports written by officers, which increased from 134 in the months before the day center opened to 307 in the six months following its opening.
The report compared that increase in calls for service with another hotspot near the Wal-Mart on 104th near Mill Plain. Around there officers saw an increase in calls related to property crimes, and reports overall, but person-on-person crimes fell.
ClarkCountyToday.com will be at the presentation to see the full data analysis and the chief’s explanation of what the data means to Vancouver Police.
According to data provided by Share, the day center had received just under 20,000 visits through June, including 1,412 unique individuals. Out of those, 48 people received employment, 70 people were connected to non-emergency housing, and 377 were put in touch with an emergency shelter.
According to Share’s program goals set out for the day center, they expected 300 unique visitors through the first six months. They are already nearly five times that. Share also had set a goal of 15 partnerships with other service providers. To date they have 11 signed up.
Stober wrapped up his comments saying that neighbors have been highly vocal about the impact they’re seeing in their community from the influx of transients using the day center.
“The community does not feel like the city and our current contractor are hearing this message. We have struggled to improve the reputation of the facility and its relationship with the neighborhood,” said Stober. “When this report comes back, we need to hear identified solutions. And I want to hear personal responsibility for addressing those issues. I want to hear about fresh, innovative leadership to lead us forward in this area.”