September 23, 2022 By Vaseline

Murals illuminate the Vancouver Safe Stay Community Hope Village

The nonprofit Fourth Plain Forward, in partnership with the Clark County Mural Society and the City of Vancouver, is installing local art to beautify the city’s second Safe Stay community for people affected by homelessness.

Ten murals have already been installed at the Safe Stay at 4915 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., called Hope Village, and about five more are on the way in the next few weeks. The project is part of the Fourth Plain Summers of Murals program, which brings together artists and builders to place murals along East Fourth Plain Boulevard, which stretches from Interstate 5 to Northeast Andresen Road.

The theme of Safe Stay’s murals is “Flora and Fauna of the Pacific Northwest,” said Paul Burgess, executive director of Fourth Plain Forward. The murals show different interpretations of this theme, including bright flowers with the words “Stay Hopeful”, a bird soaring over a lake, a cloud riding a bicycle with a rainbow tracing behind, and a few others.

Fourth Plain Forward is affiliated with artists through the Clark County Mural Society. Hope Village currently features artwork from local artists such as Stephan Smith, Travis London, Christian Barrios, Susan Soltau and Catya Ledezma. The murals are printed onto a weatherproof aluminum composite that will not fade over time. Graffiti can be easily removed from the material if necessary.

The original artwork creates a sense of community at Hope Village, a place run by the Living Hope Church that currently houses 22 people in pallet shelters. Residents participated in the process by voting on which murals they wanted to see hung in their community.

“Murals are really an important part of community building and bringing communities together,” Burgess said. “If we don’t bring art into our public space, we lose this culture and this history.”

Hope Village is surrounded by a chain link fence wrapped in black plastic. Murals attached to the fence inside and outside the community add a pop of color to the space.

“When I first came here, it was kind of militant,” said Hope Village resident Jimmy John Howland, who has been living at Safe Stay since May. “These pictures help. It looks a lot better.”

Howland himself is an artist creating abstract and contemporary pieces. He became homeless after losing his leg to a blood clot two years ago. Unable to work due to his disability, he could no longer afford an apartment.

He now uses a wheelchair and sometimes propels himself with a set of hiking poles to zoom around the Safe Stay’s tarmac. “It’s just a long way back,” he said.

Howland said he would like to see more murals throughout Hope Village. He feels particularly connected to the mural depicting a mountain and a group of people camping. It reminds him of days when he went to Trillium Lake with his father when he was younger. “The way the mountain sits in this image is almost identical,” he said.

For resident Michelle Austin, art is an integral part of life. Austin earned an applied arts degree from college and continues to make art at Safe Stay when she can. Her favorite medium is pen and ink with watercolor washes. She paints landscapes, creates charcoal portraits of people and pets, and designs fashion.

“Introducing art into the community at large has calmed the spirit,” Austin said. “As artists or musicians, we all network. And there are many, many creative people of both kinds here.”

Fourth Plain Forward plans to work with Austin and other residents to help them create their own murals for Hope Village. Austin has been collecting ideas for her mural. One of her ideas is a collage with a church in the background – a way to show her gratitude for Hope Village.

“I’m playing with a few things,” she said. “I just want to do something about our hopes, dreams and goals.”

Going forward, Fourth Plain Forward, the Clark County Mural Society and the city will continue to put up murals throughout the area, with the ultimate goal of flooding the 3-mile corridor with murals, Burgess said.

Austin thinks Hope Village has felt a lot happier since the murals were installed in late August. “It’s really a win-win situation,” she said. “You can’t go wrong with art.”