Too many ACEs up these kids’ sleeves

The scary whispers and nasty rumors spreading around the playground at Washington Elementary School have nothing to do with typical kid controversies — who’s cool and who’s not, who can run fastest or climb highest, who can unleash the cuttingest comment or the rudest body-cavity sound.

The hot playground topic at Washington these days is the future of Courtyard Village Apartments.

“There’s a level of fear. There’s a feeling of defeat. It’s like, ‘This is our life. We don’t get what other people get. We just get the short end of the stick’,” reported Carla Feltz, the Family-Community  Resource Center coordinator at Washington. “I know they’re talking about it and comparing notes at recess. ‘Did you get kicked out yet? We got kicked out.’”

In case you missed it: Courtyard Village Apartments, a complex of 151 units on T Street, was purchased late last year by Metropolitan Land Group of Beaverton and subsidiary Parc Central — apparently that’ll be the new name when the place has been remodeled and rebranded — and is now being managed by Madrona Ridge Residential.

Everyone agrees that the place is dilapidated and in desperate need of improvements. But nearly everyone also agrees that the way the new landlord and property manager are driving the improvements amounts to a slow-moving car crash for the residents. These are some of Vancouver’s lowest-income, least-able people, and they’re being told, in waves, that they’ve got one month (or less) to pack up and get out.

They have precious few options in this ultra-tight landlord’s market. Many have prior evictions, bad credit, little income, no savings. Some have criminal records. Not many landlords are eager for risks like that.

Back in December, Metropolitan Land Group’s John O’Neil mentioned that “community-based services” could help. He’s right about that. This community has proven deeply concerned and generous, amassing an emergency fund to ease some Courtyard Village refugees’ way into other situations.

But one well-connected observer retorted to me: “I’m pissed off that the taxpayers and kind souls are footing the bill for these ‘redevelopers’ profit.”

In the hole
Words that keep coming up are insensitive, inhumane, heartless. But the word that concerns me most is “ACE.” That’s an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experience.

An ace in the hole or up your sleeve usually means something sneakily great. A secret weapon, a hidden guarantee. But an Adverse Childhood Experience is exactly the opposite: something sneakily devastating. A secret weapon set to self-destruct. A hidden drag on your life.

Poverty and displacement, interruptions in schooling and decent daily nutrition, stressed-out parents who cannot provide, nor mask their anger and despair — these are some of the raw materials that ACEs are made of, according to Joan Caley, a nurse who teaches at local colleges and also serves as a commissioner for the Vancouver Housing Authority.

Brain scans are demonstrating in living color how early stress and trauma literally rewire the young brain, Caley said. “The research is pretty clear. Children who grow up in poverty are more exposed … and have a much harder time developing the resilience to deal with traumatic life events.”

“Some of them already know what it means to be homeless,” Feltz said. “Those kids have already been traumatized. Now they’re being re-traumatized.”

These kids need stability and reassurance that adults care about them. That’s why a disruption in schooling is one of the worst things that can happen.

“Attendance is a huge issue,” Feltz said. “These chunks of time when they miss out — they just fall further and further behind until it becomes too much. It’s hard to light a fire under a kid like that about a different kind of life.”

The worst-case outcomes of a big stack of ACEs? Bad behaviors, teen pregnancy, obesity, chronic diseases, mental illness, poverty — even early death.

Still hopeful
This is terrifying stuff. But there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful.

“It’s all preventable,” Caley said. “We need to get the word out about how serious it is.” Local school districts, public health officials and others are building an “ACE collaborative,” she said. Learn more about it at

Vancouver Public Schools homeless liaison Anne Galvas has said that displaced students have the legal right to stay at their home schools. The district will set up rides, she promised.

Meanwhile, the nearby Vancouver First United Methodist Church has begun a Courtyard Village ministry, collecting and distributing toys, moving supplies and meals. It’s even turned its small chapel into a food-and-supplies pantry, according to Rev. Dave Tinney. And, of course, the Council for the Homeless is administering that emergency fund for qualifying people managing a successful getaway.

Best of all, the church, the city and the Council are all looking forward to big, broad conversations in search of solutions to what Tinney called “the justice side of the housing issue.”

  • The church hosts a forum at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 401 East 33rd St.
  •  The Vancouver City Council holds a workshop on Feb. 23 about possible new legal protections for low-income residents.

“The community is trying to come together to support these families,” said Caley. “We need to build resilience in these children and avoid negative consequences later in life.”

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