Jewell Ramirez: From streets to village to a home, "everything is possible for Jewell now"


Jewell Ramirez spent almost eight years on the streets after leaving her husband after a domestic violence incident. She'd been in Portland for years, building her life, before experiencing homelessness, graduating from Portland State University and sending her children to public schools in Northeast Portland. 

And those years outside, Jewell says. camping in places like Waterfront Park and sleeping on sidewalks, took their toll on the person she'd been. 

"Living on the street makes a person selfish," she said. "But I am trying to be a better person."

Jewell found shelter last year at the Kenton Women's Village, a 14-women alternative shelter that's funded by the Joint Office of Homeless Services and the City of Portland, but guided by Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities also works to provide case management and housing navigation services.

Then, last December, after working with Catholic Charities and finding community at the Village, Jewell moved into an apartment of her own.

"Well, I feel special," Jewell says. "If I hadn't gotten involved with Catholic Charities, I'd still be out there on the streets, trying to eke out some kind of living."


Antonia: Young mom facing homelessness finds a job, a home and new hope

Antonia entered HomeSafe as a homeless mother of an infant. She lost her housing after her own mother, a resident of public housing, was issued a notice that their unit would be over capacity when the new baby joined the household. Antonia was housed in HomeSafe very quickly, as she did not have substantial rental barriers -- just youth and a lack of rental credit history.

In her first meetings with her Home Visitor, Antonia was adjusting to living alone for the first time, and living with a brand new baby. She spent a lot of time with her mother, who would have preferred having her daughter and grandbaby stay with her, but it was not an option.

Antonia shared with her Home Visitor that she had big aspirations for herself and her baby. She was a high school graduate and anticipated going to college. But the unplanned pregnancy delayed that plan.

Sharon Newell: Locally funded rent voucher is a lifesaver

Sharon Newell: Locally funded rent voucher is a lifesaver

Sharon Newell was ready to give up. But Northwest Pilot Project, an agency that helps seniors leave the streets or never have to lose their housing in the first place, renewed her hope just in time.

This winter, 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.

Today, she has a clean, vibrant apartment all to herself, with room for her family photos and lifetime of possessions, and her beloved service dog, Gracie. And she’s getting her health back -- freed from the stress of having to choose between rent or pet food or medicine.

“I was amazed,” Newell says. “I couldn’t believe it. This was a lifesaver.”

Richard's housing story: "He was not going to die homeless by the river"

as told by Mike O'Malley, an outreach worker at JOIN

Richard was homeless along the Sandy River at a place known as "Thousand Acres" for 27 years straight. I have been tramping through the mud out there and visiting his camp for over 12 years. When chatting at his campsite, sipping coffee around his campfire, he often told me that he wasn’t going anywhere and he was certain he would die out there. Then last summer, he had a stroke by the river--the paramedics had to hike in over a mile to get to his tent and, because it was nighttime and pitch black, they had to leave little flashlights in the trees so they could find their way out again. After his stay in the hospital, Richard resolved that he was not going to die homeless by the river and so did I.

Luckily, we had a housing voucher, and after a lot of searching, we found a willing landlord. We moved Richard and his girlfriend, Theresa (who has been camping outside with him for the last year), and their two dogs into their new apartment. They are beyond happy in their place. It is extremely hard for me to communicate how jarring (in a good way) it is for me to knock on his front door and visit with him in his beautiful apartment (complete with a dishwasher, microwave, etc.) after more than 12 years of sloshing through the mud and searching for his grubby tent in the woods.

I found a photo of a mountain goat and knew I had to get it for Richard’s apartment because it reminds me of him -- tough, kind of solitary, a bit gruff, and used to living in difficult conditions. But that last part isn’t the case anymore, and I couldn’t be happier for him. 

Heather's housing story: "What a difference a stable home makes in a person's life"

as told by Erin Brecht, a former outreach worker at JOIN

I met Heather at Jantzen Beach living in a tent with her dog, Bugsy. She had been homeless off and on for most of her life. She had no income but was committed from Day 1 to working hard to reach her housing goals. She mentioned that she used to drive school buses a long time ago and believed she could get a job as a long-haul truck driver. We began studying for the CDL permit exam diligently. We would even meet inside JOIN so that I could quiz her.

After a few failed attempts, she disclosed that the chaos of life on the streets was making it hard for her to think straight or to retain any of the information. With this truck driving goal in mind, we decided to move her into housing with a six-month STRA-funded housing voucher. Having her own space and furniture gave her such a greater sense of peace. Within a month of moving in, she finally passed the truck driving exam and had a boost of confidence I hadn’t seen in her before. She pursued her training through a company that offered her a job! Just goes to show what a difference a stable home makes in a person's life as they try to accomplish their goals.

Stephanie Ramirez and Surri Noelle: From a shelter to a home for the holidays

Stephanie Ramirez and Surri Noelle: From a shelter to a home for the holidays

It was the obvious thing to do when they opened the door to their new apartment and saw the fresh expanse of thick carpet that beckoned.

Surri Noelle, ecstatic and all of 6 years old, took off her shoes, hurled herself onto the floor and rolled everywhere she could.

“And I said, ‘That’s it. That’s what I was working so hard for,’” said her mom, Stephanie Ramirez. “This is what I wanted and what I needed to do.”

Stephanie and Surri were the first family to move out of shelter and into a permanent home of their own as part of this winter’s Home for the Holidays campaign.

They turned the key to their third-floor unit at Powell Court Apartments on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. They put a sign on the front door kindly asking visitors to take off their shoes -- to keep that carpet fresh -- as soon as they could.

“I didn’t realize all of the small things that you take for granted,” Stephanie said. “Lying in our own beds, in the quiet. Taking showers. Doing laundry.”