A vacant lot downtown that more recently housed a New Heights church is being considered by Vancouver officials as a possible site for its third Safe Stay community offering shelter and services to homeless people.
The site, one of several under consideration, occupies a full city block northwest of the intersection of West Evergreen Boulevard and Daniels Street. It is owned by the Edward C. Lynch estate, which has been involved in charitable causes such as the fight against homelessness.
Because the Lynch property is private, the city must approve a temporary license agreement with the estate’s personal representative, Michael Lynch, to even consider it a location. Vancouver City Council will vote on whether to approve a temporary license agreement with Lynch at a meeting on Monday.
News of the property’s potential reuse has raised concerns among some nearby business owners who say they fear the impacts a Safe Stay community could have on their businesses.
Sallie Reavey and her husband own the Briar Rose Inn, a bed and breakfast that sits around the kitty corner of the vacant lot. The possibility of a Safe Stay being put across the street is “very upsetting” to her, she said.
“We spoke to all the neighbors here. Every one of them is angry about it,” Reavey said. “Personally, I’m ready to have a nervous breakdown.”
Reavey said she had issues with vandalism and drug use on her property, as well as people screaming in the streets at night. “The problems we bear now, I can bear them,” she said. “But the idea of having a whole community of people across the street – that just seems intolerable to me.”
Some problems on other sites
City officials noted that approval of the temporary license agreement does not guarantee that the Lynch property will be chosen as the Safe Stay site. The city will conduct an extensive public outreach and community engagement campaign to seek feedback once a finalist site is selected, as it did with its first two Safe Stay communities. Part of this process is notifying all neighbors and businesses within 1,200 feet of the proposed site of the proposal and inviting them to provide feedback during a public comment period.
The city’s two existing Safe Stay Communities each have 20 modular shelters that can accommodate up to 40 people, with staff on site 24/7. Outsiders Inn currently operates the city’s first Safe Stay Community in the North Image neighborhood, and has been selected to operate the third Safe Stay community once it opens.
In its first six months, the city’s first Safe Stay community at 11400 NE 51st Circle served 46 homeless people, helped 14 people transition into housing, and resulted in a 30% reduction in calls for police and officer-initiated visits to the surrounding area. , according to a recent report from the city.
Brian Norris is the pastor of Living Hope Church, which operates the city’s second Safe Stay at 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. Norris said he hadn’t had any issues with nearby businesses since opening this Safe Stay community, called Hope Village, last April, although businesses had some initial hesitation before the implementation of the community.
There are several businesses near Hope Village, including a construction company, a game store, and a Dairy Queen, among others. The Colombian contacted several business leaders in the region. Those who responded all said they did not feel negatively impacted by Hope Village.
From Norris’ perspective, Safe Stays is actually an asset to neighboring businesses. A laundromat across the street, for example, offers residents of Hope Village a discount on laundry cards, helping to boost business while helping the homeless community. Living Hope Church also receives a stipend for residents of Hope Village to earn money by cleaning up trash in the area.
Unconvinced potential neighbors
Despite the successes of the first two Safe Stays, however, the property’s downtown neighbors oppose the possibility of creating a new community on the historic street.
Reavey, 77, and her husband bought the Briar Rose Inn 25 years ago. With no money to hire workers, they spent nine years renovating the house themselves, installing a new roof, plumbing and electrical wiring.
“It was a tough fight, but we didn’t stop, and we kept going, and now we have a great business with good retirement income,” she said.
Now, if a Safe Stay community appears nearby, she wonders if she would sell her house rather than live next door. “Imagine the tears that come to my eyes when I think of leaving this beautiful home,” she said.
David Fuller, owner of Hamilton-Mylan Funeral Home, said he was concerned the concentration of homeless people on the streets would deter families from choosing his business.
“We’ve been here for over 100 years, and I don’t really need to close my doors just because I have something like this around my business,” he said. He would prefer the new Safe Stay community to be on the outskirts of town.
The “not in my backyard” mentality is a common challenge nationwide for organizations trying to address homelessness. While residents understand and support efforts to house people, they may not want those efforts to impact their own neighborhoods that they know and love.
“Please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for helping the homeless,” said Reavey, who said he voted in favor of the city’s Affordable Housing Property Tax in 2016, which funds housing and temporary shelters.
She said she was “delighted” when the levy was passed. “I had no idea that one day it would affect me personally,” she added.
Norris, on the other hand, argues that adding a Safe Stay community is no different than setting up a small apartment complex in a neighborhood. Residents of Safe Stay must go through a background check to live there. The communities are substance-free and offer services that help residents find permanent housing and jobs.
“In my eyes, we do everything an apartment complex does — in fact, we probably go even further,” Norris said. “With 24/7 staff on hand to help people overcome barriers to accessing housing, they also provide a sense of security, a sense of security, a sense of responsibility.”