‘Structural racism impacts homelessness’: Community discussion kicks off year of work tackling disparities

‘Structural racism impacts homelessness’: Community discussion kicks off year of work tackling disparities

“For a community like this one that is very white, we suspect of a lot conversations about racism happen in a room of only white people," said Marc Dones of the Center for Social Innovations' SPARC initiative. "I love you. But you don’t know what you’re talking about. You need to have folks of color in those conversations. And not just one.”

Looking ahead for local rent vouchers: Gift from Meyer Memorial Trust may one day help pilot program for seniors grow

Looking ahead for local rent vouchers: Gift from Meyer Memorial Trust may one day help pilot program for seniors grow

This winter, Sharon Newell was one of the first seniors to receive a new locally funded, long-term rent voucher --through a pilot program supported by Multnomah County, Northwest Pilot Project, Meyer Memorial Trust and Home Forward. The voucher ensures Newell, along with 40 other households with a senior, can bridge the gap between their rising rents and their fixed incomes.

And thanks to fresh funding from Meyer Memorial Trust, that voucher program may one day get a chance to save hundreds more lives. The nonprofit has matched the County’s $350,000 investment with $150,000 of its own.

Meyer’s contribution will help with administrative costs and pay for a study of the pilot program by the Center for Outcomes Research and Education. That analysis will guide any improvements, and compare outcomes for voucher recipients against seniors overall. The review also will help answer how the program can grow to help potentially hundreds more people pay their rent as part of a larger plan to address chronic homelessness.

Volunteers across Multnomah County help hundreds of people find warm, dry places to sleep during winter storms

Volunteers across Multnomah County help hundreds of people find warm, dry places to sleep during winter storms

Severe weather shelters opened for five days, from Sunday night, Feb. 18, through Thursday night, Feb. 22 -- nearly doubling the amount of days this season in which the shelters were active.

On Feb. 22, the busiest night of that stretch, 361 people took refuge across four warming centers operated by the Joint Office and its contracted nonprofit partner, Transition Projects. Those sites offered more than 400 beds combined. And community-led shelter sites offered spots for several dozen more people.

Overall, nearly 50 County employees stepped up to help out, joining dozens of community volunteers, including several volunteers from the City of Portland and Metro. Those volunteers worked alongside staffers from the Joint Office, Multnomah County Emergency Management, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, the Department of County Human Services, and the County’s finance and facilities teams.

Planned homeless shelter at 6144 SE Foster Road: Frequently asked questions

On Dec. 18, 2017, officials from Multnomah County, the City of Portland, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Transition Projects held a community meeting to talk about their plans for a planned shelter for homeless adults at 6144 SE Foster Road.

Officials convened that meeting to proactively hear concerns -- and begin working with neighbors to address them -- months before the shelter will open, likely in fall 2018.

As discussions and meetings with neighbors on the shelter plan continue, this site is meant to offer answers to some of those questions while also providing information about the next steps in the public conversation.

 A sleeping area inside the Hansen Shelter operated by Transition Projects, shown in July 2017.

A sleeping area inside the Hansen Shelter operated by Transition Projects, shown in July 2017.

How do we choose sites for our shelters?

We look at unmet need in our community, then find suitable sites near amenities.

This is perhaps the most common question. The process of identifying sites for a shelter is difficult. We consider multiple factors, and none determines a given site’s viability all on its own.  We begin with the need we are trying to fill, e.g. 100 to 120 beds for adults. We then look at the parts of the County where there is an unmet need for shelter. Then, within those areas, we look for zones that allow by right mass shelters of the size we are looking to create (typically commercial zones).

Within those broad search parameters, we look for properties that offer the best combination of building size, layout, and condition for use as a shelter. During this process we also look for nearby features such as proximity to regular public transit, community amenities, educational resources, recreational opportunities, and social services.

This exhaustive and thorough process yields very few viable sites. But among those, we then start talking with property owners to determine whether the property is actually available for a shelter use, for how long, and on what financial terms. We have to determine, given those terms, whether the amount of investment required to occupy and convert the space into shelter is warranted.

Questions have been raised about whether sites are evaluated for how close they are to schools, homes, businesses, child care centers, and other uses. In an urban environment, it is not feasible to exclude prospective shelter sites just because they are close on the basis of proximity to these types of uses.

Some community members have pointed out that the proposed shelter site is within a mile of schools and child care centers. While this is true, it has also been true of many of the homeless shelters and homeless services in our community for years. Parole and probation officers, as they do throughout our community, enforce supervision terms that forbid someone from living within a certain distance from schools and child care centers.

While we cannot foreclose having homeless services near these uses, we can and do work to make sure those services are a good neighbor to all adjacent neighbors and uses.

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What about access to services?

Many services will be provided onsite; others are close by

Some residents have asked whether there are adequate services nearby to support the shelter. Many of the concerns appear to assume that the shelter will provide overnight sleeping accommodations only. That is not the case. This site is large enough to allow space both for night-time sleeping space and daytime activities and services.

Shelter residents will have 24-hour access to the facility. And they will have access to a range of services on site, including food, hygiene, storage, computers, and a variety of social services. The space will also be designed with an outdoor courtyard so that people can gather outdoors, socialize, smoke, etc. without having to leave the building.  

But the building is also close to several very important services. Within a short walk or bus ride there is the Worksource center, a community center, Portland Community College, a library, and a wide range of retail services on 82nd Avenue. There is not a concentration of facility-based social services. But because the site is close to frequent public transportation service, individuals needing to reach clinics and other site based services will be able to do so.

Some community members have suggested we open the shelter in the vacant Aaron’s on 82nd or in the Fred Meyer building that is soon to be vacant. We have looked at both. The Aaron’s building would be too small to meet the need. The Fred Meyer, on the other hand, is too large and too expensive.

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What about impacts on adjacent businesses and residents?

There will be no tolerance for criminal behavior at or near the shelter; there will be no tolerance for nuisance activity

This question applies to any new business or residential development. The shelter will be designed and run in a way that minimizes the impact on nearby businesses and residences. The shelter will be open 24 hours. That means no queueing in the evening or large releases of people into the neighborhood in the morning. Only people with reserved beds will have access to the shelter and the services provided there. There will be no walk-up traffic and no incentive for people who are not staying at the shelter to sleep outside or remain nearby during the day.

The shelter will have a screened off outdoor space, where shelter residents will be able to gather, keep larger belongings, animals, etc., thus cutting down the need to congregate on the sidewalks. Residents will be able to store their belongings in the shelter. That means they won’t have to carry their things with them when they leave the shelter, and there won’t be any accumulation of possessions on the sidewalks nearby.

Concerns have been raised about the how shelter residents might behave when they are in the neighborhood. Again, the situation is no different than when any other residential or commercial business moves into a neighborhood. The owner must set and enforce expectations of those who are being served. In this case, the shelter operator will have very clear expectations for residents regarding their behaviors both in the shelter and in the neighborhood.

There will be no tolerance for criminal behavior in or around the shelter. There will be no tolerance for nuisance activity that may not rise to the level of a crime. The shelter operator will work closely with immediately adjacent businesses and institutions to develop specific rules regarding whether and how residents of the shelter engage with those businesses and institutions.

The shelter operator will have sufficient staffing resources -- including security, if needed -- to enforce its rules. It will also fully partner with neighborhood and business associations to implement effective public safety strategies. And the operator will actively cooperate with law enforcement to hold any residents who do engage in criminal activity accountable for that activity.

Ultimately this shelter represents an opportunity for people enduring the traumas of homelessness to rebuild their lives. No one will be more invested in the success of the shelter and its positive integration into the community than those residents.

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What does it mean that this is a “low barrier” shelter?

it means Reducing obstacles that keep those who’d otherwise want shelter from actively seeking it

The primary goal of low-barrier shelter is to remove the obstacles that often keep someone who is unsheltered from coming into shelter. That does not, however, mean relaxing rules and expectations around conduct.

Unlike a traditional shelter, a “low-barrier” shelter welcomes people with their partners, their pets, and their possessions. And it accommodates people who have classes, appointments or job schedules that might not fit with prescribed entry and exit times.

Learn more: Read Transition Projects' guidelines and expectations for guests who are caring for pets or service animals. (PDF)

A low-barrier shelter also offers people access to the services they need, but doesn’t mandate participation in a particular program that may or may not work for them. For example, a low-barrier shelter does not require someone to sign up for a particular drug or alcohol treatment program as a condition of coming into shelter. But even though consenting to treatment is not required, residents with addiction disorders are nonetheless proactively encouraged to engage in treatment and receive support to help them do so once they are in the shelter.

The fact that sobriety is not a precondition for shelter also does not mean that residents are allowed to use on-site or near the shelter. Nor does it mean that they won’t be subject to criminal sanction if they engage in illegal activity in connection with their addiction.

Relatedly, some community members have understood “low-barrier” to mean that individuals who come to the shelter are not screened out based on their criminal history, and those community members have suggested that having a low-barrier shelter, in turn, presents a greater risk than having a higher-barrier shelter. In fact, criminal history screening is not part of any of our publicly funded shelters, whether they are low-barrier or not.

If a resident is on parole or probation, parole and probation officers, as they do throughout our community, enforce supervision terms. That includes requirements that they not be engaged in any illegal activity, and, if applicable, that they not reside in certain areas or within a certain distance from schools or child care centers. Anyone who resides in our shelters is expected, just like any other community member, to obey the law. And if they do not, they are subject to arrest and prosecution just like any other community member.  

The reason our community, like communities around the country, have moved toward opening “low-barrier” shelter is to reduce the number of people, especially people with significant disabling conditions, who are living entirely unsheltered and often disconnected from services. This is a better outcome for those individuals, as well as for the larger community that is otherwise affected by increased camping activity.

Last year, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness featured our community’s low-barrier strategy in a report on a national best practices. The federal report said the approach helps “to make emergency shelter work better for people who have historically avoided shelter” and would otherwise be sleeping outside in our neighborhoods, in tents or vehicles.

By creating safe and supported shelter opportunities for people struggling with disabling conditions -- including addiction disorders -- we can increase the likelihood they’ll get the treatment they need, and thereby improve their lives and the overall health of the community.

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Who will have access to this shelter?

Priority access is for people would otherwise sleep unsheltered in the immediate area

Our community-based shelters offer priority access to people who would otherwise sleep unsheltered in the immediate area. We set aside shelter beds, and prioritize waitlists, for people referred by businesses, residents, and law enforcement officers in the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. The same will be true for this shelter.

While all Multnomah County residents will be able to put themselves on the waitlist for this shelter, priority will be given to individuals referred from the local area. This policy helps ensure that the shelter reduces the current impact of unsheltered homelessness in the area.

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What does the timeline and community engagement process look like going forward?

Meetings with neighborhood, business groups lead to another community meeting

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners is set to vote on authorizing a lease for the property Jan. 25, 2018, during its regular board meeting. Once the lease is signed, we expect the remodel of the site to take at least six months. That means we don’t expect the shelter to open to residents until fall 2018.

Agendas for board meetings typically aren't posted until the Friday before. Click here to find the agenda when it's ready. When the meeting starts, you'll also be able to watch it online by following the same link.

In terms of community engagement, we plan to meet with neighborhood and business association board members as soon as possible. Those meetings have already begun.

Based on those conversations, we expect to have three related and co-occurring conversations: (1) how the shelter will be programmed and how the community can be involved in oversight and support of the shelter; (2) overall public safety and health issues, and (3) plans for the continued economic revitalization of the area.

After these conversations, we will hold one or more follow-up large community meetings to provide updates for anyone interested in what’s emerged from those conversations. At the same time, we will be having direct discussions with specific neighbors, including the Mt. Scott Learning Center, the 7-Eleven, and others as needed to address their specific concerns and develop any necessary strategies to ensure that the shelter is good neighbor.

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Severe Winter Weather Response is a Community Effort

Multnomah County experienced its first extended period of severe winter weather this season from the night of Saturday, Dec. 23, and the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 27.

During this time, hundreds of homeless people who would otherwise have been unsheltered found refuge in severe weather shelters. These shelters opened on demand with the help of scores of volunteers from the community.

In East Multnomah County, a new shelter site was opened at the Sunrise Center, with capacity for up to 60 people. That site was operated with a combination of staff from Transition Projects, community volunteers and Multnomah County employees.

In East Portland, the all volunteer-led Montavilla Warming Center opened and provided safety out of the cold for 25 people a night.

North Portland’s All One network of faith organizations continued its practice of offering warming shelter at University Park United Methodist Church, 4775 N Lombard St., and offered shelter to as many as 50 people per night.

In Portland’s central city, additional shelters opened. The Union Gospel Mission opened its facility as overnight shelter for upwards of 40 people per night. Portland Rescue Mission expanded its shelter capacity to nightly shelter an additional 50 people.

The Salvation Army’s Female Emergency Shelter (SAFES) opened extra space for the winter, in order to shelter an additional 35 women. And there is shelter space for families this winter at a shelter hosted by Congregation Beth Israel and operated by Portland Homeless Family Solutions.

The City of Portland and Multnomah County, in partnership with Transition Projects and the Imago Dei Community, opened two additional shelters, each with capacity to hold up 120 people per night - one at the Imago Dei Community and one at the Bud Clark Commons.  As with all the shelters, these also relied heavily on volunteers for overnight staffing.

For the first time this year, the warming centers were also staffed with Medical Reserve Corps members who were able to provide basic care to guests coming in from the severe weather and assist with triaging individuals who needed higher levels of care.

While not all the additional shelters were open each of the nights, more than 300 additional beds were available each night and no one was turned away from shelter. Over the course of the four nights, hundreds people received shelter who otherwise would have remained outside.

In addition to offering shelter, non-profit and volunteer outreach teams, partnering with first responders, conducted coordinated outreach during the day and at night throughout the event, contacting vulnerable individuals, offering them information and transportation to the shelters, as well as cold weather gear - blankets, tarps, hats, gloves, etc.

This was just the first of what are predicted to be several severe weather events this season. Our response depends on the entire community pulling together to care for those whose lives are at risk during these events.

Please support the organizations that are stepping up to provide shelter and outreach. You can be trained to volunteer in one of the shelters, you can donate cold weather gear, and you can provide financial support that helps organizations sustain their sheltering efforts.

For more information on how and where you can help, please visit 211info.org.

Record housing placements, shelter access follow investments in homelessness work

Record housing placements, shelter access follow investments in homelessness work

For the second year in a row, partners in A Home for Everyone, a community-wide initiative to end homelessness in Multnomah County, have helped record numbers of neighbors back into housing, find a safer night of sleep or keep from becoming homeless at all.

Nearly 4,900 people obtained housing in fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30 -- hundreds more than the goals partners in A Home for Everyone set before the year began. That number is also 65 percent higher than the 2,967 people placed into housing the year before A Home for Everyone launched.

In addition, 6,139 people received prevention services for the first time last year, almost 2,000 more than the year before and more than 1,000 people beyond what was expected.

And 8,532 people accessed emergency shelter in fiscal year 2017, almost 2,000 more people than the record number helped the year before. Two years ago, that number was just 4,760.

20,000 pairs of glasses! Special hotline! How providers are helping vulnerable neighbors safely experience the eclipse

Work to help some of Multnomah County’s most vulnerable neighbors get ready for Monday’s eclipse started nearly two weeks ago, when the Multnomah County Library system first offered free pairs of sunglasses certified to keep ultraviolet rays from harming curious onlookers’ eyes.

Those glasses were all gone by Wednesday, Aug. 16., says Jeremy Graybill, the library’s marketing director. And there aren’t any more on the way.

In all, over 11 days, library workers handed out some 20,000 pairs to anyone who needed them and may not otherwise have been able to buy them on their own – providing important protection for people looking to make the most of this remarkable event. The work to give out glasses comes alongside educational exhibits and plans for community events focused on the eclipse.

"This is simply the library doing what the library does – providing learning opportunities and resources for the whole community," said Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries. "It just so happens that this is a once in a generation event, right in our backyard, so it's been a fun and rather unique chance to share in the experience."

But that’s hardly been the only work to ensure neighbors in our shelters and on our streets are able to safely experience Monday’s near-total eclipse in the Portland area.

Nonprofit service providers across the county are helping people obtain safe eclipse-watching glasses, sharing safety tips and warning clients to plan ahead for fallout from a surge in visitors to Oregon. Emergency management officials anticipate traffic will be dramatically affected, in addition to high demand that could lead to empty grocery shelves and long lines at gas stations.

For immediate help, our regional information clearinghouse helping people in need connect with the right services, 211info, has an eclipse hotline in place through Wednesday, Aug. 23.

Here’s a roundup of how some providers are stepping up:


211info is working with Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management, Oregon Parks & Recreation, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Travel Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority, and other local and state agencies through Wednesday, Aug. 23 to provide information about where and how to view the eclipse, safety concerns, emergency preparedness, traffic, road closures, and more to people in Oregon.

Members of the public can call 211 and press 1 for “eclipse information,” text “eclipse” to 898211, or visit www.211info.org/eclipse. The hotline will run Aug. 16-23 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Bradley Angle House

Staffers have handouts at the ready and have shared glasses with all shelter participants and staff. They’ve also given advice on social media and directly with participants on how to prepare for heavy traffic, and gas and food shortages.

Cascade AIDS Project

Cascade AIDS Project is sharing safety information sent in an email this week from the Joint Office of Homeless Services, with as many clients as possible. The nonprofit is not providing glasses directly, but is directing clients to places where glasses are available.

Cascadia Behavioral Health

Cascadia is directing participants to 211 for information and is directing clients to places where glasses are available.

Central City Concern

Central City Concern is not directly giving out glasses, but it is helping clients obtain them as needed by sharing information on where to find safe, appropriate eyewear. Staff is also sharing links with information on how to safely experience the eclipse and warning clients about potential dangers.

Human Solutions

Staff at the Family Shelter in east Multnomah County and the Gresham Women’s Shelter are talking with residents about how to prepare for increased traffic and demand for food and gas, along with directing people to places where glasses are still available. Informational posters are up at both shelters.

Janus Youth

Yellow Brick Road volunteers and Janus staffers are providing information on how to safely travel to safely view the eclipse during their regular outreach rounds. They also have a limited supply of glasses to hand out to those who want them.

Neighborhood House

Neighborhood House has given glasses to all interested program participants. Staff has also distributed glasses through Neighborhood House’s food box program.

Northwest Pilot Project

Staffer at Northwest Pilot Project are sharing information one-on-one with clients and are prepared to pass out a “very limited” supply of glasses to clients.

Transition Projects

Transition Projects is preparing a safety poster for all of its facilities and shelter spaces explaining the dangers of looking directly at the sun as well as sharing resources on how to obtain glasses. Staff will share  announcements at each of Transition Projects’ facilities over the weekend and on Monday.

Providers taking extra steps, from air-conditioned day spaces to bottled water, to keep neighbors safe during heat wave

As temperatures hover near or above 100 degrees this week, raising the risk of dangerous health impacts, providers who work with people experiencing homelessness are taking extra steps to directly help neighbors in need.

Some are opening air-conditioned spaces for those who need a cool spot to be during the day. Others are passing out water, either at their facilities or sending it along with outreach teams. In addition, crews contracted by the City of Portland to clean up campsites will limit their work until the heat wave subsides.

Staff at the City of Portland and Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services have compiled the following list of providers and their efforts to offer relief. The list will be updated, so please check back for updates.

Cooling Centers to open in Multnomah County on Tuesday, Aug. 1

With temperatures expected to climb into triple digits this week and remain high for several days, Multnomah County will open three cooling centers to help seniors and people with disabilities and other health conditions stay safe.


Cooling centers will open Tuesday, Aug. 1 and remain open through at least Monday, Aug. 7 at the locations listed below. The centers may remain open beyond this date if the temperature remains above 90 degrees. All cooling centers will be open from 5 pm to 8 pm on weekdays and 2 pm to 8 pm on weekends.

  • Multnomah County Walnut Park Building, 5325 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland
  • Multnomah County East Building, 600 NE 8th St., Gresham
  • Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave., Portland

Pets and children are welcome at all three cooling center locations. Each location also will have activities including board games and movies. Snacks and water also are available.

Additional Cooling Center open to all at the American Legion Post 134, 2104 NE Alberta St., Portland, Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 am to 7 pm and Friday from 10 am to 5 pm.

Transportation to cooling centers can be arranged by calling Ride Connection at 503-226-0700. Advance reservations are encouraged. All rides are free of charge.

Community members are encouraged to check on elderly or vulnerable friends and relatives and also to sign up to receive email alerts about future cooling center openings.

 Click to View Printable Flyer

Click to View Printable Flyer


  • Drink plenty of water, non-alcoholic and decaffeinated fluids. People with health conditions such as epilepsy, heart or kidney disease should talk to a doctor before increasing their consumption.
  • Find the cool places. Visit a family member or neighbor with air conditioning, or go to the nearest public library, shopping mall or other cooled space.
  • Dress for the weather. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
  • Never wait in a parked vehicle or leave a child, elder or pet waiting in a parked car. Temperatures inside parked vehicles can rise dangerously high -- even with the windows open.
  • Slow down. Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities until the heat of the day has passed.
  • Stay out of the sun. Sunburn interferes with the skin’s ability to cool.
  • Take a cool bath, shower or sponge bath. Cool water can help cool an overheated body.
  • Pay attention to older adults, people with disabilities or health conditions.
  • Check on those who are at-risk at least twice a day.

For additional tips, visit www.multco.us/help-when-its-hot

The Multnomah County Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Helpline has resources for older adults and people with disabilities, including a list of senior centers, transportation services and 24-hour crisis intervention.

For more information, call 503-988-3646 or TTY at 503-988-3683.

For heat advisory information in different languages, please visit https://multco.us/help-when-its-hot/tips-print-and-post

Housing advocates rally against threatened federal cuts: "Housing is a human right"

Housing advocates rally against threatened federal cuts: "Housing is a human right"

Housing advocates, clients and elected leaders gathered by the dozens in North Portland on Friday, July 28 with a plea for White House officials considering billions of dollars in cuts to housing, homelessness and anti-poverty services.

Don’t cut funding that pays for thousands of apartments and rental vouchers. Don’t even hold the line. Follow our lead, and help us save lives, by investing even more.

“Public housing saved my life,” said Annie Calhoun, a cancer and stroke survivor who relied on housing through Home Forward to weather treatment and seven operations in the past year.

“I’m a tough cookie,” she continued. “But if I didn’t have a stable home that I could rely on, I’m not sure I’d be here to talk to you lovely folks. We don’t have enough affordable housing. I’m here to tell the federal government we need more.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks at a housing rally, Friday, July 28, 2017, while Commissioner Loretta Smith, Mayor Ted Wheeler and others look on.

The rally at McCoy Park, in the heart of New Columbia, was one of a series of events nationwide for National Housing Week of Action(link is external), led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Providers and advocates are reacting to what they say are troubling budget discussions in Washington, D.C., around housing: Under the White House’s proposed national spending plan, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would see a $6.8 billion cut.

For Oregon, that comes to $80 million less for Oregon every year, with more than $20 million in cuts possible just for Multnomah County, according to data from Home Forward(link is external), the region’s local housing authority. Proposed White House cuts would zero out local funding for programs including Meals on Wheels, employment training and housing rehabilitation. Local funding that helps maintain buildings with public housing would be cut by nearly 70 percent.