Group, which meets once a month, gives homeless a voice
By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: March 30, 2016, 6:05 AM
There are neighborhood associations for most every area in Clark County, but what about people without an address?
The new Unhoused Residents Association looks to empower homeless people in Clark County by making them an officially recognized group that can advocate on its own behalf. In February, the association began holding monthly town hall meetings at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in west Vancouver.
Outsiders Inn, a homeless advocacy group, formed the association; meetings are facilitated by founder Adam Kravitz. He said he is a more effective advocate when he hears the most relevant, current concerns from people who are living on the streets.
“That’s why we do this. Everybody gets a voice, and everybody gets to be heard,” he said. “The magic of these meetings is bringing people together and the collaboration that’s going to happen.”
Kravitz is a new board member at Share, which operates shelters in Clark County, so he is able to offer institutional knowledge and relay what’s happening at the nonprofit organization to the Unhoused Residents Association members. Ren Autrey, also of Outsiders Inn, keeps minutes during the meetings.
Fliers for the association read: “No decisions about us, without us!”
Judi Bailey, neighborhoods program manager at the city of Vancouver, said neighborhood associations are geographically defined and are officially recognized by city ordinance. That means that those without an address cannot form a neighborhood association. The Unhoused Residents Association would be considered a sort of stakeholder group, she said, similar to Bike Clark County or the Clark County Rental Association.
“It’s more a group that’s connected by interest than geographical location,” Bailey said.
K.C. Vee, who lives out of his van with his wife, attended the group’s second meeting on March 10. The 40-year-old said he isn’t sure if politicians will listen to him about his concerns but they would be more apt to listen to a reputable organization, whether it’s Outsiders Inn or the Unhoused Residents Association. He is concerned about the negative perception of the homeless, he added.
“This isn’t just a bunch of people sitting around whining about being homeless,” Vee said. “We want to change our circumstance.”
Danny Hessick said he heard about the meetings at Friends of the Carpenter and a volunteer with the nonprofit group drove him to the meeting at St. Luke’s. The 47-year-old said he likes that the gatherings give him a chance to let other people know what he is feeling.
Also in attendance were representatives from agencies that assist the homeless, including 211Info, the Arnada Abbey, Hands of Favor and His Presents.
Many topics were covered at the two-hour meeting on March 10.
Whether huts donated to the homeless for temporary shelter should come with a defined set of rules was debated. Vee was wondering if ordinances could be changed to allow cooking in parks after dark; one recent rainy evening, he got a warning from a police officer for cooking on a stove under a covered area at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. His wife, Mandi Vee, would like to see a program mandating that new businesses in downtown Vancouver hire at least one homeless person — a noble idea that needs to be ironed out, Kravitz said. She would also like to see the Portland-based newspaper “Street Roots,” which addresses homelessness and poverty, be available in Vancouver and focus on local issues.
The Rev. David Knudtson, who heads the Arnada Abbey, was interested in acquiring land for a homeless village, similar to Dignity Village, a city-recognized encampment that started in 2001 in Portland. The idea was floated to, perhaps, have a sit-in at a Vancouver City Council meeting to make the homeless community’s presence and concerns known.
Kravitz urged the group to think about how to present that village idea — and other ideas — in the proper way to officials.
“No one has bothered to have a structured group, an organized association like we’re doing now, with bylaws and paperwork and leadership,” said Kravitz, who used to be homeless. “It’s one thing to say ‘Give me a piece of land. You don’t know me, and I’m homeless, and I think I deserve a piece of land.’ That’s different than a group, an association coming together with strong leadership, strong support, community members coming monthly and showing an agenda of ‘This is what we’d like,’ ‘This is the outline of what it will look like.’ We can do this, but we need to do it properly.”
Dignity Village, Kravitz added, started out with a group of people regularly meeting.
“Maybe there isn’t as much of a fight as you think,” he said. “Again, what are we showing up for? Are we just showing up to say ‘Pay attention, do something,’ or are we coming with solutions?”
“If we’re not coming with solutions, we’re wasting our time,” K.C. Vee said.
At times during the March 10 meeting, conversations overlapped or digressed one way and then another. It was similar to what one might find at a spirited Neighborhood Association meeting.
“Remember, there is going to be a lot of discussion during this meeting. There is going to be a lot of rambling, there’s going to be a lot of going in directions. And part of that is the population that is this association has never had a chance to talk before,” Kravitz said. “We have to remember to give each other a break and remember that conversations are going go like that sometimes. And, I’m OK with that, and I hope you guys can find some patience and be OK with that.”
The meetings are an opportunity to vent about what’s going on, where everyone gets to explain their situation and what they hope to get out of the meeting. Periodically, though, Kravitz steered the conversation toward solutions and ways the group could band together to make those solutions happen.
Outsiders Inn is working on getting more people to attend the town hall meetings. Twenty-seven people came to the second meeting. Those who can’t make it are encouraged to join the closed Facebook group, Clark County Unhoused Residents.