Vancouver to look at funding shelter bed increase

This funding would create 24 new beds and expand 42 others for year-round use

VANCOUVER — Members of the Vancouver City Council, next month, are expected to approve spending nearly $500,000 in Affordable Housing Fund money to preserve shelter space and open new beds for those experiencing homelessness.

A tent marks a homeless encampment in a wooded area along Grand Boulevard south of the Vancouver Navigation Center. Photo by Mike Schultz
A tent marks a homeless encampment in a wooded area along Grand Boulevard south of the Vancouver Navigation Center. Photo by Mike Schultz

The funding is part of the $42 million Affordable Housing Fund property tax levy approved by Vancouver voters in 2016, which allocates $6 million per year towards affordable housing, housing rehabilitation, rental assistance, and shelter space.

During a work session at their Monday meeting, Community Development Programs Manager Peggy Sheehan said the city received $1.76 million in requests for grant funding through the program to increase shelter space. That was more than three times the available amount under the current use of the Affordable Housing Fund dollars.

Currently, the bulk of the yearly spending goes to building new affordable housing, deemed as affordable to those making 50 percent of the area median income. The second-largest piece of spending is to preserve housing.

Sheehan said the city has spent $7.7 million to build 431 permanent housing units, $2.4 million to preserve 194 units, and $2.71 million in rental assistance to prevent households from falling into homelessness. Only $628,000 has been spent improving three shelters, creating a dozen new beds.

Using $175,412 in unspent program funds, Sheehan said, would allow the city to up their shelter improvement spending to $475,412. That would be enough to add 24 shelter beds, and turn 42 beds that are currently only available during the winter months into year-round beds.

It would also provide $10,000 to Council for the Homeless to pay for hotel vouchers, Sheehan said. Less than the $50,000 they requested, but enough to help up to 48 individuals or families.

“It’s been a very successful use in our community,” said Sheehan, adding that they are generally used by Vancouver Police when they encounter homeless families or individuals late at night or early in the morning when shelters are full, and their only other alternative would be to take them to jail.

The city currently funds slightly over 200 shelter beds year-round at six shelters, with another 100 beds available during the winter months. During extreme weather, several churches open extra space, but Sheehan said it’s hard to calculate what the maximum number of available beds is on those days.

The most recent Homeless Point-in-Time count, conducted by the Council for the Homeless last January, showed well over 300 people living outside of shelters. It’s also generally accepted that the annual count may be off by around 30 percent, meaning there could be close to 500 people in need of shelter space in Clark County.

New Homeless Resource Manager Jackie St. Louis has recommended the city find money to open an 80-bed temporary bridge shelter, following recommendations from San Diego nonprofit Alpha Project for a 150-bed shelter. Councilor Erik Paulsen wondered if it might be better to hold off on this funding to set the money aside for that project, which is expected to cost around $500,000 to open.

Sheehan said that was discussed between her, St. Louis, and the six-person committee looking at these Affordable Housing Fund grant requests, but they determined that this funding could open new shelter beds immediately, where the bridge shelter could still be a couple years in the future.

“We also heard that the state is going to be looking at the possibility of additional dollars for shelter operating,” said Sheehan, noting a proposal that Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to make as part of his proposed budget later this week. “That’s part of the consideration, but the committee and staff felt that the folks that applied can start right now, and help immediately get some additional people off the street.”

Other councilors wondered if it might be possible for the city to rearrange how it allocates Affordable Housing Fund dollars to potentially put more into shelter space. City Manager Eric Holmes noted that there are plans to bring that issue before the council near the end of January.

The council is expected to formally vote to approve the shelter grant funding requests at is Jan. 13 meeting.

The programs for which funding were recommended were:

  • $84,226 for X-change Recovery for additional staff, allowing 18 beds in existing traditional homes to be reserved for homeless individuals for one year.
  • $180,949 for St. Paul Lutheran Church to support additional staff, adding six beds at their Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter (increase from 24 to 30 beds) for one year. Increased staffing would also allow the church to increase service from 5-months to year-round.
  • $200,237 for Share to support additional staff to increase operating hours from overnight to 24-hours at their 18-bed Women’s Housing and Transition Shelter for one year.
  • $10,000 to add 60 vouchers to their existing short-term motel shelter program, along with support staff to help participants move to longer-term shelter or housing.

The committee declined funding the following requests, citing a lack of funds, but will assist the agencies with help finding money elsewhere:

  • $100,000 for St. Paul Lutheran WHO shelter for roof and window replacement, additional shower and half bath, and built-in bunkbeds.
  • $1.1 million from Vancouver Housing Authority to improve its existing SafeChoice women’s shelter, as well as adding 11 beds.

“We’re really excited about what the fund is achieving,” said Danell Norby, a community development coordinator with the city, before adding, “we want to acknowledge that there’s a lot more need in the community.”

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