As of January 24, 2019, 958 people in Clark County were experience homelessness, up 21 percent from January 25, 2018. 133 families with children were included in that number. These are just some of the data collected by the Council for the Homeless (CFTH) in their annual Clark County Point in Time Count. But the CFTH does not just collect data. They work toward real solutions in the hopes that these numbers will start trending down.
The Council for the Homeless is a non-profit organization with a mission to “provide community leadership, compelling advocacy, and practical solutions to prevent and end homelessness in Clark County, Washington.” Founded in 1989, they watch the homeless situation in Clark County carefully, including what caused it back then and what is causing it to keep rising now.
Loss of family, income, health, etc., often leads to homelessness, that hasn’t changed much over the years. “What we see now versus 20-plus years ago is that today, it is easier to become homeless,” says Charline Welch, development and communications director for Council for the Homeless. “For example, many years ago a person living on social security typically had enough funds to pay their rent. Today, the increase in rents has made it extremely hard for people on a fixed income to pay for rent and living expenses.”
Over the decades, the Council has helped house homeless in countless ways through partnerships with shelters, creating low-income housing, and working with organizations that can provide resources to get someone back up on their feet, such as banking, housing and job resources, to name just a few. Things like the CFTH Housing Relief Fund (launched in 2015), which helps remove barriers to renting or the Severe Weather Task Force to expand shelter capacity, are important parts of their work. “We fill a unique role in the community in that we work directly with people in need of shelter and housing, and we are responsible for the system planning, data collection and analysis, working with shelter and housing program providers to place people in their programs,” explains Welch. “We also advocate for housing and homelessness policies at all levels of government, offer community education programs, and trainings for social service providers.”
As a voice for those struggling, Diversion is one the most important things the Council for the Homeless does. Their staff is trained to help people end their homelessness quickly, before they need long-term assistance. This is accomplished through coaching and one-time financial assistance, when needed, to remove barriers to housing.
For those that do need help, the Council for the Homeless developed a hotline that allows people to call just one number and find out which shelter has room. The hotline works with 10 housing agencies and over 40 different housing stability programs, along with publicly funded shelters including winter and severe weather. “We want to make sure all beds are full each night knowing the need greatly outweighs the available beds and housing programs,” Welch explains.
A big project they are currently working on is the Housing Initiative LLC, which directly addresses on of the main causes for homelessness in Clark County, raising costs of rent and house shortages. The LCC is working on developing affordable housing as a solution. The first 18-unit development, The Pacific, is welcoming its first residents home in January 2020. Welch says two additional, 36-unit developments are in the works.
“CFTH was also recently awarded a two-year Homeless Student Stability Program (HSSP) grant to provide housing search and move-in cost assistance to families of color within the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts,” adds Welch. “Families of color are disproportionately affected by homelessness based on CFTH and school district data. CFTH seeks to work closely with the school district family community resources centers, culturally specific partner agencies and landlords to house families and connect them with supports to make sure they remain housed.”
It Takes a Village
The Council for the Homeless does not do this work alone. They are hub that works with many organizations, businesses, non-profits and the government to make needed changes in our County. They also rely on grants, donations and volunteers to then see those changes through. For those looking to help, volunteers are always needed. Monetary donations can be made online or by mailing a check to Council for the Homeless, 2500 Main Street, Vancouver, 98660.
“Homelessness is a complex issue and requires engagement from organizations and businesses across multiple sectors,” Welch says. “Every organization and business can bring their expertise and resources to the table.”
Community partnerships with businesses such as TwinStar Credit Union, are important. “TwinStar Credit Union is a wonderful partner and has embraced CFTH’s role in the community,” explains Welch. “They have taken the time to learn about our work and began as a sponsor of our annual Making Home Possible luncheon.” TwinStar also helped the CFTH by arranging to have them come to the Hazel Dell Business Association to get input on their business tool kit they were developing. “We are grateful for TwinStar Credit Union’s support and hope to grow our relationship into the future!” she adds.
If we all do our part, we can help make sure everyone in Clark County has a roof over their head. For more information, visit the Council for the Homeless website.