“We’re not going to stop homelessness because we don’t like it.”
Michael Eddy sat back in his chair, looking at the rows of modular shelters lining the cul-de-sac in Vancouver’s North Image neighborhood. He could place where his shelter in the Safe Stay Community stood, which he was scheduled to move out of in a matter of days. The transition process, although overwhelming, was a necessary reset — one that saved Eddy’s life.
Homelessness isn’t something planned, regardless of whether people face mental health struggles or addiction, he said.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t count,” Eddy said.
In March 2021, Eddy found himself leaving his home in Zanesville, Ohio, after experiencing an intense manic episode. He was emotionally overwhelmed, in a vulnerable and dangerous state, and making decisions that were causing more problems.
“The trajectory of my life that it was going on, you know, I thought everything was fine,” Eddy said. “But I was just completely lost.”
Once in Washington, he lived in his car thousands of miles from familiarity, had no money and “didn’t know anything about anything.”
When Vancouver’s first Safe Stay Community opened in December, though, Eddy was able to move into warm, dry housing while he searched for employment and received medical treatment. Being able to sit and calm down after one of the most intense periods of his life was vital in his search to gain stability. The transitional housing provided him a place where he could recover — financially, emotionally and mentally.
“That’s everything,” he said.
Each Safe Stay Community is designed with 20 Pallet shelters that can house up to 40 people seeking to resolve their homelessness. There’s access to basic amenities: sanitation services, toilets, hand-washing stations and a communal space. A contracted nonprofit operates the site 24/7 and connects residents to local agencies. Outsiders Inn manages the first community and hires individuals who were formerly homeless.
The city is scheduled to open its second Safe Stay Community on April 13 at the former Golden Skate property, 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd.; it will be operated by Living Hope Church.
Although the Safe Stay Community has operated for only three months, Eddy quickly made significant strides and soon got a job through Share’s “Talkin’ Trash” program and secured his own housing. He was scheduled to move on Saturday, which also happened to be his 45th birthday.
Adam Kravitz, Outsiders Inn executive director, said he’s proud of the residents as he sees them working toward bettering their lives. He said more than a dozen residents acquired IDs, three entered a medical-assisted treatment program, and several sought out substance use recovery services. Four individuals found employment and another four are actively applying for jobs.
It’s surreal to see someone achieve their milestones, said Matthew Oakes, Safe Stay Community program manager. He witnesses the emotion — both joy and anxiety — in the residents’ faces as they make progress. Still, it isn’t always easy.
Some residents have been let down so many times that it makes it hard to trust others, Oakes said. They may refuse help or self-sabotage when their situation begins to improve. Oakes recognizes this behavior, as he experienced it himself when he was transitioning from homelessness.
“It hurts to even try it,” he said. “It can be scary.”
Others may not be used to working with others, as they were the sole source of holding themselves accountable, Oakes said. Some residents faced situations where police officers dismantled their camp and discarded their belongings, fueling uncertainty around authority figures. The key is letting residents move at their own pace; when rapport is established, they can flourish, he said.
“You can ask any one of them. They’ll go out and help anybody and give them the shirt off their back,” Oakes said.