Vancouver Housing Project Brings More Medical Treatment To Homeless Community

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People gather outside apartment complex.

A new housing complex outside Vancouver, Washington, aims to help unsheltered individuals whose physical conditions also make them frequent visitors to emergency rooms.

Tenny Creek Assisted Living, a 40-unit apartment building, will offer medical treatment and nursing on the premises. Combined with its communal dining room and gleaming commercial kitchen, it bears some resemblance to a retirement home.

But the facility, which state and local officials visited Monday, aims to only treat people who have also lived on the streets. It will welcome its first tenants in June, according to the Vancouver Housing Authority.

“This is a population that isn’t able, with their current health conditions, to live independently and needs that around-the-clock support,” said Andy Silver, chief operating officer of the facility.

Unsheltered people often deal with multiple health conditions, from behavioral health illnesses to bodily maladies that arise from prolonged periods of outdoor living. For some, physical issues predate their homelessness and may have even contributed to losing a home.

And while supportive housing projects can get a roof over a person’s head and connect residents with mental health specialists, Silver said there haven’t been facilities in Clark County that also provide physical care.

“It was definitely an all-hands-on-deck effort to get it — from us noticing this gap in the community, to getting partners to help us (with) what it would look like, to then getting the resources to get the construction.”

The need for such facilities is growing, said state Rep. Sharon Wylie.

“There is a bow wave of aging and medically fragile people with issues and housing shortages,” the Vancouver Democrat said. “Hospitals can’t keep them forever. It’s expensive. So we’re going to need facilities where people can get the kind of support they need as they age.”

Tenny Creek doesn’t specifically treat an aging population, but rather people who receive Medicaid dollars from disability.

Wylie, who spoke publicly at the event alongside other local elected officials like Republican Rep. Paul Harris and County Treasurer Alishia Topper, said she hopes communities are becoming more aware that homelessness requires “many solutions and many needs.”

“It’s not just drugs, it’s not just alcohol,” Wylie said. “We are at the end of a 30- to a 50-year period where the federal government has gotten out of mental health. The states have backed away from their own mental health facilities without building community-based services … we’re way behind the curve.”

The facility, which Silver said took roughly four years to come to fruition, cost slightly more than $17 million. The housing authority is paying for it with its own loans, as well as money from the state Legislature, a grant from the state Department of Commerce and an investment from the New York nonprofit NDC Equity.

The project also taps $1.3 million from Clark County’s pot of mental health dollars that it collects from sales taxes.

This story was originally published by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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