Battle Ground deputy mayor works to help homeless

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One elected member of north Clark County government is doing her part in a countywide effort to help those experiencing homelessness.

On a relatively dry day in January, Battle Ground Deputy Mayor Cherish DesRochers showed off a new bathroom unit stationed at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Vancouver. “The pod,” as DesRochers has dubbed it, is more permanent than a more mobile shower trailer, but is an extension of the nonprofit’s overarching “Shower Outreach Project” or the “SOP.”

The pod features a full shower, toilet and sink, which are all connected to heated plumbing. It is the latest effort by Food With Friends, a nonprofit started by DesRochers and Jamie Spinelli. Spinelli now serves as the city of Vancouver’s homelessness response coordinator.

“It’s been a couple years in the making,” DesRochers said.

DesRochers said she raised roughly $4,500 to buy the pod at a Portland-based auction around 2019.

DesRochers said the China-made unit is intended to be at construction sites for workers. When she purchased it, the unit didn’t have plumbing or a heater for hot water.

Prior to its installation at the church, the pod made several moves across Clark County while Food With Friends figured out what they wanted to ultimately do with it, DesRochers said. She reached out on social media to churches who would be interested in hosting the pod, and in late 2020, Immanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Adrienne Strehlow contacted her.

The church has been a part of the county’s shelter outreach for several years, Strehlow said. She said the church looked at ways to include a shower inside the building, but it proved cost-prohibitive.

“When this (shower pod) came up it was like an answer to a dream,” Strehlow said.

Before the pandemic, Food With Friends’ outreach worked its way into north Clark County, as they set up the mobile trailer at Church on the Rock in Battle Ground for a few weekends before COVID-19 hit. While the world was largely shut down, she said she worked on remodeling the existing two-shower trailer, which is currently hosted at Living Hope Church.

For the pod project, Food With Friends received support from Sarkinen Plumbing, DesRochers said, who stored the unit and also did the plumbing work for about half the normal cost. Pacific Towing also helped with transportation, she added.

DesRochers said the learning experience of setting up the pod has given her the confidence to do the same thing again.

“Now that I’ve done the one (pod) I’m going to keep my eye out for them to come up again,” DesRochers said.

Churches are a viable avenue for overnight shelters, Strehlow said, due to the space they have available and the committed volunteer base they can muster for a cause.

“It builds commitment in the community, to lift up the whole community together,” Strehlow said.

The church’s current shelter project is staffed by local advocacy group Outsiders Inn. She added the support of churches can relieve other homelessness resources so they can better help the people they serve.

DesRochers was appointed deputy mayor by fellow councilors earlier this month. She said her nonprofit work gives her a better perspective. The dialogue DesRochers has with people she doesn’t know helps her communicate with those of different backgrounds better.

“The real, raw conversations I have with people, I think it really builds my character,” DesRochers said. “I think that helps me make good decisions on council.”

Having the shower adds another level of support for individuals who need it, Strehlow said.

“Taking a shower helps people feel rejuvenated,” Strehlow said.

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