Helping the homeless

Plans and programs are being organized and implemented allacross Multnomah County in an effort to minimize homelessness andprovide better care for those in need.

There are a host of programs and organizations that have beenand currently are working to provide aid for homeless andimpoverished individuals and families.

A panel was held at PSU on June 30 to discuss the current stateof homelessness in Portland.

At the panel Jean DeMaster, from Human Solutions, spoke out onhow the general public commonly and falsely stereotypes homelesspeople as drug-addicted, pan-handling, single young males, pointingout that nearly half the homeless population is made up of familiesand young people.

Human Solutions is an East Multnomah county organization thatprovides for homeless families by building affordable housing,creating eviction prevention programs and supplying emergencyservices.

Ex-police chief and current frontrunner in the upcoming mayoralrun-off, Tom Potter made a brief speech at the panel, showing hissupport for programs such as JOIN and Dignity Village, and sharedhis views on homelessness and what he would do to assist inpreventing it if elected.

“Homeless people need to be part of the solution,” Pottersaid.

Many attribute Portland’s homeless problem, at least in part, tothe diminishing number of affordable housing units available in thearea. According to an inventory done by the Northwest PilotProject, the number of affordable housing units since 1978 hasdropped from 5,183 to 3,353 while the number of buildings withaffordable housing units has dropped from 77 to 44.

10-Year Plan
Currently, a 10-year plan to end homelessness is being developed byconcerned citizens within and outside the homeless and socialservice communities.

This program, spearheaded by the Bureau of Housing and CommunityDevelopment and Commissioner Erik Sten, is designed to worksimultaneously and in accordance with the other programs in effectthroughout the county.

Ideas and initiatives for this plan are constructed withinvarious workgroups comprised of some of the homeless-prevention andsocial service organizations in Portland. They are then discussedat coordinating committee meetings, at which the leader from eachworkgroup is present.

These initiatives are then documented by the Bureau of Housingand Community Development and sent to a citizen’s commission thathas the power to wave or pass each initiative.

It is a federal requirement of every state receiving funding forhomeless aid that they construct a plan on dealing withhomelessness. The 10-year plan is a takeoff of thisrequirement.

While this isn’t the first plan organized by the city inresponse to homelessness, Heather Lyons, of the Bureau of Housingand Community Development, said that it is unique in its broad useof the community’s resources and enhanced plan for attacking thedifferent facets of the homeless problem.

“Basically, it’s just a lot bigger,” Lyons said.

Dignity Village
57-year-old Tim McCarthy is homeless and has lived at Dignityvillage, a self-contained, resident-run and operated tent-city forthe homeless and destitute, since December of 2001. For the sevenmonths prior to relocating at Dignity Village he lived alone in atent by the airport.

One day the Portland Police told him he would have to go toDignity Village or they would take all of his belongings. He haslived there ever since.

“It’s just like being in a house with 60 of your brothers andsisters,” said McCarthy. “We’re a family. We don’t necessarily getalong everyday.”

Dignity Village started in 2000 with a large group of homelesspeople living under a series of Portland’s bridges only to besystematically removed from each one.

“That’s when the city got involved,” said McCarthy referring tothe Sept. 2000 Street Roots campaign for a sanctioned city, andMultnomah County Circuit Judge Steven Gallagher’s consequentialruling against the camping ban that had been enforced for the sevenyears prior.

Members see Dignity Village as a viable alternative to life onthe streets. “It’s taken people that usually have to fend forthemselves and given them a community,” McCarthy said.

Occupants of Dignity Village take pride in theirself-sufficiency and strong work ethic. Each resident must completeat least 10 hours of work for the village per week to retain theirmembership.

However, members are currently involved in a power struggle ofsorts with the city of Portland over the nature of theirland-ownership arrangement. Apparently, the city is attempting toput an end to their rent payments in order to gain complete controlover the village.

McCarthy fears that this shift of power would jeopardize notonly their sovereignty, but also the strong work ethic that is sovalued by residents of Dignity Village. “We want to retain ourautonomy,” said McCarthy, “and we want the worker bees to get thegig.”

City officials haven’t confirmed the existence or nature of thisdispute.

According to McCarthy, Dignity Village transitioned out 71people last year, one third of which went on to find permanenthousing.

Of all the programs in affect throughout Multnomah County, JOIN isarguably the most admired and respected.

JOIN is an outreach program that is specifically designed tohelp those that live on the streets.

“We’re not a shelter-our philosophy is supporting people intheir own efforts,” Rob Justus, founder of JOIN, said.

There are five outreach workers at JOIN whose soleresponsibility is to go out on the streets and establishrelationships with homeless people. After they have builtrelationships and the individual or family is willing, the nextstep is to help them establish income and finally to find themhousing.

Justus believes that the most important aspect of working withhomeless people is to get a roof over their heads as soon aspossible.

“The approach is a housing-first approach,” Justus said.

Last fiscal year, JOIN moved 437 people into permanent housing,127 of which were dependent children.

On average, 80% of those individuals who are transitioned intopermanent housing by JOIN remain housed a year later.

Justus started JOIN back in 1992. “I was working in St. Francisdining hall and was kind of sparked by the people there,” hesaid.

JOIN does not receive federal, state or county funding. Rather,they are funded through individual donations, grants, companycontributions and a small contract with the city.