Camas-Washougal Community Chest awards $134K to 34 local organizations

Annual grants assist nonprofits serving Camas-Washougal residents

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Volunteers from Impact Camas-Washougal at St. Matthew Lutheran Church collect deliveries for low-income families in 2023. The Impact Camas-Washougal program is a 2024 Camas-Washougal Community Chest grant recipient and will use the money to buy food and grocery gift cards for families in need in the Camas and Washougal school districts. (Contributed photo courtesy of the Camas-Washougal Community Chest)

When it comes to meeting the most critical needs of its Safe Stay car-camping residents, a little goes a long way at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Washougal.

“We are so appreciative of the Community Chest grants,” St. Anne’s vicar, Rev. Annie Calhoun, said of the $6,000 grant her church will receive from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest grant-funding organization in 2024.

And while $6,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to helping Camas-Washougal’s unhoused and most vulnerable community members, at St. Anne’s, the Community Chest grant goes a long way toward restoring people’s dignity.

“The funding is essential in providing the basics — a clean bathroom, the ability to shower and wash their clothes,” Calhoun said. “The grant has allowed us to increase what we can give while they’re staying here.”

The Safe Stay car-camping program currently provides a safe, overnight parking space for eight regular car-campers and their pets. All but two of the campers are over the age of 65, and the vast majority grew up in Washougal or have close ties to the small city, Calhoun said.

“We’ve seen an increase in elderly people who are unhoused and living in their cars,” Calhoun said. “Every single person here, except one, is from Washougal,” Calhoun said. “One couple met in high school here.”

All of the campers are actively seeking permanent housing, but a lack of affordable housing is a huge barrier, Calhoun said.

“The cost of housing is high. One-bedroom apartments are close to $2,000 (a month) and a room in (an apartment or house) costs between $500 and $1,000,” Calhoun said. “Our younger people do work, but that doesn’t mean they can save enough to afford (move-in costs, which usually include a first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit). Some of our campers are looking for a room to rent, but when you’re living on Social Security, it’s super hard to find a room to rent.”

And then there are the costs associated with having a lower income. Calhoun points to one camper who could not afford to renew his vehicle registration and had misplaced his driver’s license.

“I helped him look up everything on the internet — the outline of where to go and what to bring to get his driver’s license … and to get his insurance and registration renewed,” Calhoun said. “By the time he was done, it was over $900 because he had let things lapse. If we didn’t have that money to help him, he would still be driving an unregistered car without a license. Then, he might have misdemeanors and a bench warrant if he missed a court date, and he could be put in jail and have his car, which is his home, towed. For people who are car-camping, that’s their entire life, so they’re very hesitant to ever leave their car because they’re afraid someone will steal their things or that the car will be reported and it will cost a few hundred dollars to get it out of the repo lot, and they don’t have that money.”

For people living on low fixed-incomes or earning close to minimum wage, keeping on top of all the things required to even own and drive a vehicle in Washington state can be an expensive endeavor.

“The ability to stay on top of everything — to have the car registered with a sticker on the plate and a license — can be expensive. And, if any of that falls apart, crawling back up is so challenging.”

Calhoun said she knows many community members don’t realize how easy it can be to fall into poverty and be one step away from homelessness.

“Every time someone says to me, “We have to do something about the homeless,’ I say, “We need to give them a place to live,’” Calhoun said. “The response can be antagonistic. They say (unhoused people) need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and I tell them, ‘They don’t even have boots.’”

“Unless you’ve worked with the unhoused, you don’t realize how hard it is to be a legal adult in the U.S. and the costs involved and the hassle and the wait times,” Calhoun said. “There are so many steps, or hoops, or whatever you want to call it. When you don’t have an address, you can’t apply for anything.”

Even applying for an apartment or a room in a home usually requires things like a bank account or a credit card that many unhoused people don’t possess, Calhoun said.

“It’s very, very hard on folks who have, for whatever reason, slipped out of a guaranteed place to live … and it’s heart wrenching to think that people aren’t really looking at (the unhoused) as people — or understanding how close they might be to having this happen. Becoming unhoused is not that far away for most people.”

The money from the Community Chest grant will help St. Anne’s continue its Safe Stay car-camping program and pay for things like the regular cleaning of the onsite port-a-potties and costs associated with the onsite showers, wifi, laundry facilities, church kitchen and outdoor electrical outlets.

Calhoun said she has seen what a difference having a safe, protected space to camp in a vehicle or the ability to take a shower or have a clean load of laundry has made on the small group of campers who temporarily call St. Anne’s Safe Stay parking lot home.

“So many of the unhoused are in competition for the right spot to park or for limited resources,” Calhoun said. “But this group has that covered, so they’ve been able to form a community. They have coffee together in the morning and, when we open up the church kitchen on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we have two to four volunteers from the church community who help and who have formed friendships with the campers. It’s a gift both ways – for the car campers and for our volunteers.”

Community Chest awards $134K to 34 organizations

The Safe Stay program’s grant is one of 34 grants totaling $134,000 that were awarded by the Community Chest — and its Camas-Washougal Rotary Foundation and Camas Lions Foundation partners — to nonprofit organizations that deliver services to Camas-Washougal children and families.

“The grants will fund such diverse services as emergency food assistance, aid to families in crisis or needing emergency services, safe temporary shelter for at-risk youth … and water quality monitoring in the Lacamas Creek watershed,” the Community Chest noted in a news release announcing the 2024 grants. “New organizations receiving grants for the first time will offer services such as a Community Arts Night program – a free opportunity to experience the benefits of creativity and artistic expression, bringing songwriters to the Washougal Arts fair and staffing and equipping for three litter cleanups at Cottonwood Beach.”

Since 2016, the Community Chest has awarded more than $700,000 in grants to local nonprofits serving the Camas-Washougal area. The group estimates this year’s $134,000 in grants will benefit more than 30,000 individuals.

The 77-year-old Community Chest’s main grants support the food bank at the Inter-Faith Treasure House and family support programs at the East County Family Resource Center (formerly the Children’s Home Society of Washington) in Washougal.

Other grants will help fund the Camas Farmer’s Market’s “Produce Pals” program that educates children about where and how food is produced; assist families with services that will prevent them from losing their homes and entering the shelter system through Family Promise of Clark County; support the Washougal Community Library’s summer reading program; send sixth-graders in Washougal to the Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s “Explore the Gorge” outdoor education program; fund the purchase of books and other educational materials for Camas-Washougal children in pre-kindergarten and elementary classes through the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Camas-Washougal; buy food and grocery cards for families in need via the St. Matthew Lutheran Church’s Impact Camas-Washougal program; provide funding for overnight facility stays for Camas-Washougal runaway youth at risk of abuse and neglect; finance expenses not covered by health insurance for cancer patients through the Pink Lemonade Project; and fund the replacement of a vehicle for the Silver Star Search and Rescue crews out of Washougal.

At the Camas-Washougal Historical Society (CWHS), a $2,500 grant will help pay for the commissioning of artist Adam McIsaac to create a 12-by-4-foot fish-carving display at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum’s Gathering Place at Washuxwal in Washougal.

“Adam was the sculptor for the exhibits in the plankhouse (inside the Gathering Place),” explained CWHS Board Secretary Nancy Carroll.

McIsaac’s new exhibit, Carroll said, will show indigenous people’s salmon-preservation methods, in which fish are hung from the roof of the plankhouse above fires to dry and cure.

“The heritage museum artifacts represent the lives of people who lived in the area,” Carroll explained, adding that the Gathering Place venue, located on the south side of the museum, is meant to celebrate the area’s Native American history.

“As more people start to visit the museum, we want it to be a place where people can come and (the exhibits) will tell a story,” Carroll said. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure we have good explanations for the exhibits … so that people can navigate on their own and read the information.”

The Community Chest grant money will help the museum continue to enhance The Gathering Place and educate more visitors about the customs and everyday life of the Camas-Washougal area’s earliest residents.

Like many other grant applicants, the historical society’s grant was a bit lower than their request. Instead of the requested $3,000 to commission McIsaac, the Community Chest granted the historical society $2,500 for its artwork project.

That was a common scenario this year, said Community Chest’s campaign chair, Richard Reiter.

“We received applications totaling $195,424,” Reiter said.

However, the Community Chest’s 2024 grant budget, which included $13,000 from the Camas-Washougal Rotary Foundation and $1,000 from the Camas Lions Foundation, came to $134,000.

“So most applicants realized some reduction to their grant request,” Reiter said.

In February, Community Chest board members spoke to the Camas City Council about this year’s grant recipients and about the ongoing work of the grant-funding group.

“We make sure the funds they get from us are used locally,” Community Chest board member Joelle Scheldorf said. “The report (the grant recipients present) every year shows that, and we make sure the funds are used for what they said they’re used for.”

One grant that is “near and dear to our hearts,” Scheldorf said, is the grant that helps fund the Principal’s Checkbook, which allows local school principals to help students they know are in need.

The board members said they have formed partnerships with groups like the local Rotary and Lions clubs, and are grateful to the people in Camas and Washougal who regularly donate through paycheck donations to the Community Chest.

“We need support,” Scheldorf said. “We run lean … and we don’t have all that money (for the 2024 grants) in the bank, so we’re depending on businesses and groups and individuals to keep that money coming in.”

To learn more about the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, visit camaswashougalcommunit