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Neighbors want city of Vancouver to close home for mentally ill, chronically homeless

Columbian - 6/1/2024

Jun. 1—Neighbors of a Fruit Valley home for mentally ill and chronically homeless people have banded together to try to convince the city of Vancouver to shut it down. They say the home's unsupervised residents have become a nuisance. The owner of the home says the alternative for the residents is the street.

Genevieve Fisher purchased the house in 2023 with her mother to house people with mental illness, including her brother who was homeless and diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Since then, neighbors allege the home's residents defecate in their yards, scream in the street, attempt to enter other homes and live in vehicles outside the home.

"As soon as they moved in, it was just nonstop chaos," said Jacob Fulkerson, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2019.

Nonprofit has no staff

The "not in my backyard" mentality, also referred to as NIMBY, is a frequent challenge for organizations trying to create facilities for homeless people. But neighbors say the house doesn't have the supervision that a shelter or adult family home would.

Genevieve Fisher operates the house under the auspices of a nonprofit called Siddhartha's Dharma in honor of her brother. It has no funding for staff to care for the residents.

"All they've done is buy a house and stick a bunch of people that really genuinely need help and just left them to their own devices," neighbor Justin Thompson said.

The Vancouver City Council approved a $300,000 grant for Siddhartha's Dharma in 2021, but city staff canceled the award in October 2023 — five months after Genevieve Fisher purchased the property — due to the house's poor condition and the small number of people it could hold, according to Samantha Whitley, the city's housing programs manager.

"I first thought we would have more money, and my goal was that we would be able to take the funding, get the house, license the house (as an adult family home) and then receive clients," Genevieve Fisher said.

That didn't happen. Still, the home was a place where her brother and people like him could stay instead of living on the street.

Nine people who had been homeless have lived either inside the home or in the camper in its driveway. Genevieve Fisher's brother, Siddhartha Fisher, has been a constant tenant.

Neighbors say he is the main tenant causing problems for them. They accuse him of defecating in their yards and entering other properties. Next-door neighbor Allan Beck filed a civil protection order against Siddhartha Fisher after he allegedly entered his backyard, walked down the road with his pants down near Beck's 9-year-old daughter and continually pushed his doorbell.

"He was stalking my front yard, walking back and forth day and night," Beck said. "They have created a bathroom out of the whole neighborhood."

On May 19, Beck reported to police that Siddhartha Fisher had pulled down his pants and urinated in front of him. Siddhartha Fisher was arrested on suspicion of indecent exposure, violating the civil protection order by walking within 30 feet of Beck's residence, resisting arrest and intimidating a public servant for allegedly threatening to kill the arresting officers, according to court records. His case is pending.

A challenging situation

Genevieve Fisher said it's hard for people to understand the challenges family members of people with mental illness face. She said that even when her brother was living with her as a child, neighbors complained. Although her brother's living situation is not ideal, it's better than him being homeless, she said.

"It's not like he wasn't in the community before. He just was on the streets and doing the same things," she said.

Genevieve Fisher said getting her brother help with his mental illness has been difficult because he often fails to keep his appointments. She recalls spending a day convincing her brother to go to the hospital just to have staff release him when he said he wanted to go home.

"Obviously, just him being without any kind of service, just on his own, is not working," Genevieve Fisher said. "He needs services. He needs to be connected with people that can help supervise, help them. And I'm more than willing to talk to the neighbors."

Genevieve Fisher said there is a gap in resources in Clark County for people like her brother who end up either on the streets or confined in hospitals and jails.

"I think the easy way out is to say, 'Oh, this person should go to jail or be incarcerated for life because they can't seem to follow our standard code of ethics of how we live as normal citizens with each other,'" Genevieve Fisher said.

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Neighbors say they frequently call police on the home. In the year before Genevieve Fisher purchased it, there were two emergency calls made to the address. In the year since then, there have been 33 calls, according to Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, which operates the county's 911 system.

The city's code-compliance office has also received one call, according to Vancouver development review manager Jason Nortz, who oversees that division.

Neighbors say they should feel safe and at ease in their own neighborhood. They at least should have been informed when the house opened, they said. Many only recently found out the home was created through a nonprofit after a May 21 article in The Columbian.

"I understand that mentally ill have to have somewhere to go, but there has to be some kind of treatment in place for them. You don't just pile them up on a piece of property in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It just seems crazy," Fulkerson said.

Genevieve Fisher hopes to expand the house so more people can live there and said she will apply for another city grant.

"The end goal is full-time care, but right now, the short-term remedy is housing," she said, "because before, him and others were on the streets doing the same things he is now, just in a different neighborhood."

Neighbors are against any expansion.

"We just want to make sure our story is heard and not come off as NIMBYs," Fulkerson said. "We've worked extremely hard to get where we are and just want the same protections more affluent neighborhoods would have."

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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