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Open House Ministries realizes 'God block' in Vancouver with affordable housing plan

An organization that helps homeless people find a new way in life is writing its next chapter. Open House Ministries is about to build affordable housing.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Open House Ministries has always tried to be "full-service" when it comes to getting people out of homelessness. Now they're going to add long-term affordable housing, and they found a place to do it right across the street from their existing Vancouver campus.

The location is a parking lot now, but it had an old house on it when a generous donor gave the property to Open House Ministries.

In about 18 months, a new four-story building will stand at the corner of 12th and Jefferson — built for people, including many families, who are ready to move on from the non-profit's long-term shelter.

“We've always joked about having a 'God block' and we just keep expanding. We're trying to meet the needs of our community, and this seems to be a huge need,” said Open House Ministries Executive Director Renee Stevens.

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Stevens is one of the family shelter’s success stories, having worked her way up from a pretty low place.

“Twenty-three years ago in 1999 I moved into Open House Ministries with my three daughters — I’d been addicted to drugs for 25 years, completely hopeless — and I just never left,” Stevens said. 

Now Stevens is full of hope and excitement for the next chapter in the nonprofit's 35-year history, with the construction of apartments that offer true affordable housing, with rent based on income.

“You know homelessness, houselessness, it just sounds so negative — but what's going on down here is so positive and we're just trying to be a part of the solution, think outside of the box and keep up,” said Stevens. 

Open House already has 36 units of long-term shelter where people can stay for up to a year if they make progress changing their lives. The nonprofit serves a lot of families, including all of the support services to go with it. Some residents can also learn job skills at the shelter’s thrift store.

RELATED: Low-income housing complex for seniors opens in Vancouver, right across from homeless encampments

Amanda Goforth was successful in getting her life together at Open House, and for five years has managed the shop. She now feels called to help others and knows the affordable housing will help.

“It’s exciting, we get to help more people and it’s a huge issue when you go to leave shelter and there’s a lot of barriers. First if you have any eviction history, and affordability ... I mean you have to make three times the rent [for] places,” said Goforth.

There is also a bike shop which specializes in fixing up donated bikes for sale and doing repairs.

Mark Roskam was the inspirational chaplain that started the bike shop and served Open House Ministries as spiritual leader until his untimely death from a brain aneurysm two years ago. Roskam is greatly missed here.

The new building will house the bike shop and thrift store on the ground level, plus they'll add a coffee shop.

Stevens knows Roskam would be pleased, especially with what the new housing will offer.

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“One thing we try and represent here is finding hope in a time when a lot of people feel hopelessness,” said Stevens. “So when people are working through our program and they're not quite sure of the next step they can look out the window and it's right there. That's their hope.”

Open House Ministries relies on help from the community, both financially and through volunteerism. Project Cornerstone is the capital campaign to help fund the Open House Ministries West building.

Construction begins in October, and the nonprofit plans to have families living there in early 2024.

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