The news that Vashon Community Care (VCC) will cease operations at the end of the year is heartbreaking and confusing to so many on the island, but most especially to the 36 souls who currently reside in the assisted living facility, as well as their families and loved ones.
A difficult journey is ahead for them all.
But it also stings many others of us who thought of VCC as something that would be there forever, if and when we needed it.
For many years, VCC has been one of the island’s most treasured institutions. If you’ve lived on Vashon for any length of time, you’ve known elders who resided there, as well as islanders who have given time, talents and treasures to support the care center’s mission.
Throughout the pandemic, and as it now continues, we have all held our breath as we saw, across the country, nursing home and assisted living facilities become sites of COVID outbreaks. Ours has not.
So now, it is very hard to hear what VCC’s current director, Wendy Kleppe, and an executive vice-president of the nonprofit healthcare organization that now owns VCC, Jeff Shichta, told The Beachcomber and the community this week: that VCC’s operations have become unsustainable due to two intractable problems: lack of demand for its services and a persistent and unsolvable shortage of workers that crippled operations and drove up expenses even higher as agency workers from the mainland were called upon to replace local ones.
Vashon’s housing crisis is real — the island has become completely unaffordable for many, so much so that the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH) has just announced a new project: a lottery that will provide $500 dollars a month to 10 households, with more families in line to receive similar assistance if enough money is raised.
While this new program is admirable and needed on Vashon, is this what it has come to— a lottery to keep working people and seniors on fixed incomes from being tossed out of their homes?
We are deeply indebted to the islanders who are involved in organizations including Vashon Household, IFCH and St. John Vianney’s Society of St. Vincent DePaul chapter; we applaud their efforts to keep islanders in their homes and create more affordable housing on Vashon. We acknowledge that this work is complex, difficult and never-ending.
We need more solutions, new ideas, and we need them now. Who will work in our shops, serve food in our restaurants, care for our children and perform so many other necessary jobs here, if people cannot afford to live here? Where will seniors, many of whom have lived on Vashon for decades, be able to find safe and reasonably priced places to live?
So while we mourn the loss of VCC, we are still very encouraged to hear that VCC and Transforming Age have promised to work with island organizations and community partners to find a use for the incredible facility that faith, love and island dollars built as VCC.
The building itself is so lovely, filled with 56 bright, small apartments, a commercial kitchen, light-filled common spaces and outdoor gardens. It now must be repurposed to continue to serve the community, and what better purpose could be found for it than as affordable housing for islanders of all generations?
As Verna Everitt points out in her commentary on this page, the ground where VCC stands is sacred — for more than 100 years, it has been the site of a residence for vulnerable islanders — a category which now unfortunately includes many ordinary working people on Vashon.
We all must hold VCC and Transforming Age to their promise to keep the building and grounds of VCC as a place of care for those who need it in our community.