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In the News
Leadership Lunch Focuses on Affordable Housing
On October 12, 2017, over 270 leaders from Washington County and the surrounding region convened for an important conversation on affordable housing at our Leadership Lunch. These generous supporters came together, giving over $64,000 to help Community Action deliver hope, help, and change to families across Washington County. Attendees also heard from top business leaders about what affordable housing is, why it matters to our community, and what leaders in the private sector can do to help address this challenge.
Roy Kim, Owner of Central Bethany Development, spoke about the importance of partnership in addressing the affordable housing need, and how Community Action helps him understand the perspective of those in need of affordable housing. [CLICK TO WATCH ROY KIM]
Sarah Joannides, Director of Social Responsibility at New Seasons Market, shared how the proximity of affordable housing to the workplace impacts their workforce. As one of the largest employers in the state, this issue has become a top priority for their business and has influenced the company’s role as an advocate promoting affordable housing. [CLICK TO WATCH SARAH JOANNIDES]
Caroline Roper, a client of Community Action, rounded out our speakers by sharing her own story of transformation thanks to the support she received from Community Action helping her find affordable housing. When she was able to stabilize her home, she was able to create stability in other areas of her life, to the benefit of both her and her children. [CLICK TO WATCH CAROLINE ROPER]
Our deepest thanks to our Presenting Sponsor, Tuality Healthcare, our additional sponsors and table hosts, and all of our guests for making the Leadership Lunch a tremendous success.
Head Start Rally in Washington DC Draws Enormous Crowd
Near the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, hundreds of people gathered for the “Families Unite for Head Start Spirit Rally.” Many were parents or Head Start employees who came from all over the United States, including California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, New York, and elsewhere. Virtually every state in the Union was represented.
The National Head Start Association organized the rally and set up 300 visits to congressional leaders later that day with the goal of encouraging lawmakers to increase funding for Head Start programs.
Several house representatives and a U.S. senator were on hand to speak, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Christ (D-FL) and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Their powerful speeches excited the enthusiastic crowd.
Senator Merkley talked about the importance of fighting for expansion of funding. “Just a week ago there was a bill on the senate floor to increase military spending by 80 billion dollars,” he said. “What would be the impact to Head Start and Early Head Start if we increased funding by a few billion dollars?” Senator Merkley then asked the crowd to think of all the returns that would come back to society if the nation invested in helping all children thrive and succeed. He said, “Generations to come would feel the positive effects.” (video below)
Lawmakers weren’t the only ones taking the stage to energize the crowd, numerous Head Start parents spoke as well. Hector Banuelos from Los Angeles (a father of six) told a heartwarming story about how Head Start made a positive difference in his life and the life of his children. Banuelos admitted that he was ill-prepared to be a parent, but Head Start gave him the tools needed to flourish. “If you are a parent,” said Banuelos, “and you take advantage of every program they have, you will become a successful parent.” Banuelos also said, “Before you can take care of others, you have to take care of yourself first.”
That is a concept that Head Start believes in. And they are committed to their work, giving every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, an opportunity to succeed in school and in life. In the 50 years since its inception, Head Start has improved the lives of more than 32 million children and families. The Community Action Partnership stands proudly beside them in support of everything they do.
View the CAP press release.
$350,000 Immediately Available to Help Homeless Veterans
SALEM, OR – Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) in partnership with the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs is pleased to announce the release of $350,000 in resources to provide immediate assistance for Oregon’s homeless veterans. Governor Kate Brown is leading the effort to end veteran homelessness in Oregon, and these funds will be implemented by Community Action Agency partners across the state and delivered through the Veterans Emergency Housing Assistance program administered by OHCS.
“Every veteran in Oregon deserves safe and stable housing,” Governor Brown said. “I’m proud of the progress we’re making to ensure every veteran has a roof over his or her head, and this dedicated funding takes us another step closer toward ending veterans homelessness in Oregon.
“We’re excited about our partnership with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs as we work together to end veteran homelessness in Oregon” said Margaret Salazar, Director of Oregon Housing and Community Services. “Our veterans have bravely served our country and we owe it to them to ensure that they have a safe and stable place to call home.”
The most recent homeless Point-in-Time count found the number of homeless veterans in Oregon has declined by 121 people, which is a decrease of 9% from 2015. Significant attention and resources, particularly from local governments, have been focused towards housing Oregon’s homeless veterans and these numbers indicate progress is being made. However, there is still work to do; the 2017 Point-in-Time count found 1,251 veterans are still homeless in Oregon. With the additional $350,000, we expect to provide even more homeless veterans with housing opportunity and see veteran homeless rates continue to drop.
“In the last few years, we have made great progress in reducing the number of homeless veterans, but we still have a long way to go to meet our goal of ending veteran homelessness in our state,” said Cameron Smith, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. “This funding is essential as we continue to work to address the housing needs of all of Oregon’s veterans and their families.”
Funding for this program is part of a swath of new and expanded veteran services made possible through the allocation of 1.5 percent of net Lottery revenues, which Oregon voters approved by an overwhelming margin in 2016 (as Measure 96).
ACCESS – OHCS Special Projects Report
2017 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness in Oregon
Every two years, during the last ten days of January, there is a nationwide effort to count every homeless person across the country. This Point-in-time count attempts to capture both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people to provide a snapshot of homelessness in the United States. In 2017, staff from homeless assistance agencies, county and city employees, and hundreds of volunteers across Oregon conducted a street count of the unsheltered population, and data were collected on the homeless population living in emergency shelters and transitional housing throughout the state. Along with the total number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons, information was gathered on a wide range of characteristics of the homeless population such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, veteran status, and disability status. Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) obtained data from every Continuum of Care (CoC) in the state and provides these estimates at the county and state level here and in an interactive dashboard available at http://tabsoft.co/2vDk00L.
According to this year’s PIT survey, the number of homeless people in Oregon increased by 6%, from 13,176 in 2015 to 13,953 in 2017. There were increases in both the number of sheltered (3%) and unsheltered (8%) people experiencing homelessness. This increase in homelessness is likely the result of a number of economic and demographic factors that have led to more Oregonians struggling to find housing they can afford. According to the latest Census Bureau data, Oregon was the 6th fastest growing state in the nation in 2016 and more than three-quarters of this growth came from people moving into the state. However, housing production declined dramatically from 2005 through 2010 and has only recently begun to recover, leading to a critically low housing supply. A low housing inventory coupled with a growing population has led to some of the lowest rental vacancy rates in the country. Furthermore, from 2008 to 2015, family median incomes decreased 1.8 percent while median rents increased 9.8 percent (in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars). Tens of thousands of people are simply unable to afford these rising housing costs and have had to sleep in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.
Point-in-Time counts are an important source of information about neighbors who cannot find a permanent place to call home on a given night, but they do not tell the full story of homelessness in our communities. Due to the difficulties of attempting to count people who are living in places not meant for habitation in the coldest months of the year, it is likely that these numbers are an undercount of the homeless population on a given night. This year proved especially difficult due to the severity of the Oregon winter. Furthermore, some homeless families are not in shelter or on the streets, but are living with friends and family. Many CoCs go beyond a count of sheltered and unsheltered individuals and also count the number of people who are living doubled up with friends or families and are considered “precariously housed”. Others are able to provide more information on how many individuals and families are accessing services over the course of a year, rather than just on a single night. For more information about a particular CoC’s counts, methodologies, and the local initiatives being taken to address homelessness, please see the contacts at the end of this report.
On a single night in 2017:
- The number of people experiencing homelessness in Oregon was 13,953. Forty-three percent or 5,986 were sheltered, and 57% or 7,967 were unsheltered.
- Seventy percent of this population were people living in households without children, 43% of whom were sheltered and 57% of whom were unsheltered (Figure 1).
- One out of four homeless people were in households with children, and were more likely to be sheltered, with 48% in shelters and 52% living in unsheltered locations (Figure 1). The remaining four percent of the homeless population, or 605 people, consisted of unaccompanied children under the age of 18. These children are overwhelmingly living in unsheltered locations, with just 18% living in shelters and the remaining 82% on the streets, cars, or other uninhabitable places.
- The number of homeless people increased from 13,176 in 2015 to 13,953 in 2017, an increase of 6%. The unsheltered population grew at a rate of 8%, while the sheltered population increased by 3%.
- There were 3,387 chronically homeless people, making up 24% of the total homeless population.3 Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the chronically homeless individuals counted were unsheltered.
Selected Demographics of the Homeless Population:
- The majority of homeless people (73%) were over the age of 24, while 19% were under 18 and8% were 18-24.
- Men made up 60% of the homeless population, women represented 39% of all homelesspeople, and transgender people made up 0.5% of the homeless population.
- 1,494 homeless people (11%) identified as Hispanic or Latino and the remaining 89% were NonHispanic/Non-Latino.
- The breakdown of the homeless population by race shows that 81.1% were White, 6% were African American, 4.2% were Native American, 0.6% were Asian, 1.2% were Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and the remaining 6.8% were multiple races.
- All homeless people of color, except Native Americans and those identifying as multiple races, were more likely than white homeless people to be sheltered than unsheltered. For example, 68% of African American homeless people were sheltered compared to 41% of white homeless people.
- All people of color, except Asians, are overrepresented in the homeless population. For instance, African Americans make up just 2% of the population in Oregon, but make up 6% of the homeless population in Oregon and Native Americans make up 1.1% of the total population and 4.2% of the homeless population (Table 1).
- There were 1,251 homeless veterans in Oregon, according to this year’s PIT count. This is 9% of the entire homeless population. Forty-seven percent of these homeless veterans were sheltered and 53% were living in unsheltered locations.
- The vast majority (90%) of homeless veterans were men, but 120 were women, 6 were transgender and the remaining 3 do not identify as female, male, or transgender. The number of homeless veterans decreased by 121 people or 9% from 2015.
- Homeless veterans are more likely than the overall homeless population to be chronically homeless, with 36% of homeless veterans experiencing chronic homelessness, compared to 25% of the overall homeless population.
Homelessness among Subpopulations
- Fourteen percent of all homeless people in Oregon have a serious mental illness and 12% have substance abuse disorder. Homeless individuals with a serious mental illness or a substance abuse disorder are very likely to be unsheltered.
- Sixty-eight percent of those with a substance abuse disorder and 72% with a serious mental illness are living in unsheltered locations.
- Sixty-five homeless people reported that they have HIV/AIDS; 60% were unsheltered.
Unaccompanied Youth and Parenting Youth
- There were 1,731 unaccompanied youth and parenting youth experiencing homelessness in 2017.
- Unaccompanied youth make up 84% of this population (1,462 people) and most of these unaccompanied youth (65%) are adults aged 18-24, while the remaining 35% are children under 18.
- The number of unaccompanied youth increased by 14% from 2015 while the number of Parenting Youth decreased by 8%.
- A significant majority (81%) of unaccompanied youth under 18 are unsheltered, compared to 56% of unaccompanied youth aged 18-24.
- All but two of the 125 parents in parenting youth households are adults aged 18-24 and the remaining two parents are under age 18. They are parents to 144 children under 18.
- Parenting Youth are more likely than unaccompanied youth to be sheltered, with 74% living in shelters.
- Unaccompanied youth are more likely than the overall homeless population to be women and to be transgender. Forty-four percent of unaccompanied youth are women and 1.4% are transgender, compared to 39% and 0.5% of the homeless population overall.
Homelessness by County
- Multnomah County had 4,177 people experiencing homelessness, representing 30% of the state’s homeless population. The counties with the largest homeless populations after Multnomah were Lane (1,529), Marion (1,049), Deschutes (701) and Clatsop (682).
- There were five counties with a Hispanic homelessness rate of more than 15%: Malheur (41%), Umatilla (22%), Jefferson (18%), Wasco (17%) and Hood River (17%).
- Four counties have a higher percentage of African American homeless people than the state average of 6%: Multnomah (14%), Harney (10.5%), Washington (9%) and Polk (8%). Jefferson County’s chronically homeless individuals make up 62% of the homeless population.
- Baker County, Crook County, and Lane County have the next three largest rates of chronically homeless people at 43%, 42%, and 42% respectively.
- The largest numbers of homeless veterans are in Multnomah county (444), Lane county (164) and Jackson county (95).
- The county with the largest percentage of unaccompanied youth and parenting youth is Curry (79%).
We want to thank the following Continuums of Care for providing OHCS with the data necessary to complete this analysis. The people listed below can be contacted for more information about the counts in their regions and local initiatives to prevent and end homelessness:
- Central Oregon CoC (Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties): Hope Browning, NeighborImpact; email@example.com
Press Release: http://www.cohomeless.org/pdf/PressRelease-HUDHomlessPIT-May2.2017.pdf
- Clackamas County CoC: Abby Ahern, Clackamas County; AbbyAhe@clackamas.us
Press Release: http://www.clackamas.us/communitydevelopment/documents/hmis2017.pdf
- Eugene, Springfield/Lane County CoC: Pearl Wolfe, Lane County; Pearl.Wolfe@co.lane.or.us
Press Release: http://www.lanecounty.org/cms/one.aspxpageId=6095987
- Hillsboro, Beaverton/Washington County CoC: Annette Evans, Washington County Department of Housing Services; Annette_Evans@co.washington.or.us
Press Release: http://www.co.washington.or.us/Housing/EndHomelessness/upload/2017-PIT-and-HICHomeless-Summary.pdf
- Medford, Ashland/Jackson County CoC: George Jarvis, Jackson County Homeless Task force/ACCESS; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Oregon Balance of State CoC: Joann Zimmer, Beyond the Box Strategies, LLC/Community Action Partnership of Oregon; email@example.com
- Portland, Gresham/Multnomah County CoC: Denis Theriault, Multnomah County; Denis.Theriault@multco.us
Press Release: https://multco.us/multnomah-county/news/2017-point-time-count-more-neighborscounted-homeless-2015-more-sleeping
Career Tech Students Take on
Whale of a Project for Rose Parade
By Kendall S. Cable, Contributing writer
NEWPORT, OR. It all began with a used golf cart. Then came a metal frame welded by City of Lincoln City Maintenance staff. Next, seven students from Career Tech High School’s Woods and Metals Program created a plywood foundation for strategically-placed PVC and chicken wire to rise. Finally, from burlap, rice and thistle breached a whale of local distinction that migrated to Portland’s Rose Parade Saturday.
The float, a promotion for Lincoln City’s Pixiefest to take place June 24-25 at Chinook Winds Casino and Resort, was helmed by Pixie Captain and Lincoln City Councilor Kip Ward, who intentionally grew a beard for the event, according to Ed Dreistadt, Lincoln City Convention and Visitor Bureau director. The whale, accompanying pixies, and Pixiefest are a nod to Pixie Kitchen and Pixieland – former local establishments which catered to children.
“The Career Tech students saved the day,” stated Dreistadt. “We located a used golf cart and the city maintenance staff constructed the brackets for a wood platform to be attached to, but all the rest was courtesy of the Career Tech crew. They designed the platform, the whale, and the waves and then built it all.”
For the seven students (Corrie Martin, Jason Miranda, Tyler Rini, Kendra Arns, Cameron Ogle, Levi Huppert, and Jordan Serden), the project was an act of teamwork and patience – 40 hours of patience, according to John Kiser, Career Tech Woods and Metals Program crew leader.
“There wasn’t a lot of arguing or head butting with the design process,” Kiser said. “Everyone agreed on what we would do and got right to it.”
The 14-foot-by-8-foot float was built during Wednesday class time in Schooner Creek Designs’ woodshop. Students learned a variety of skills and worked with tools such as sanders and jig saws.
“I think it was a good project for the kids to learn how to use the power tools. It was good for them,” Kiser said. “Some of them have not used a sander or jig saw before. It was good hands-on training with those power tools.”
Just as important as tools and technique is teamwork, according to one student. From city hall to the students to the community, all made the project possible.
“The best part was working together as a group, teamwork,” Miranda stated. “It takes a lot of work to do the littlest things. But if you do, you learn a lot.”
For more information regarding Pixiefest, go to pixiefest.com. Pixiefest is a collaborative effort led by Kiwanis Club of Lincoln City in partnership with Theatre West, Chinook Winds Casino Resort, Lincoln City Outlets and Farmers Insurance.
Career Tech High School is chartered through Community Services Consortium, the community action agency helping people in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties. For more information go to www.careertech.us or www.communityservices.us.
Community Action Directors at 2017 National Community Action Foundation (NCAF) Conference
By: Janet Merrell, Executive Director, CAPO
CAPO directors made a strong showing at the NCAF conference held in Washington, D.C. during the week of March 12, 2017. David Bradley, Executive Director of NCAF, put on a powerful program and I’m happy we were all there to participate.
Renee Bruce, Executive Director of our Washington County agency attended, along with Program Director Katherine Galian and Board Chair, Richard M. Odell. Jeff Sargent, Executive Director of Yamhill Community Action (YCAP); Donna Bowman, Executive Director of Klamath Lake Community Action Services (KLCAS);Steve Manela, Director of Lane County Community Action programs; and Kelly Wessels, Chief Operating Officer, United Community Action Network (UCAN) of Douglas and Josephine counties attended and were able to actively participate in an exceptional program.
Jeff Sargent, Executive Director of Yamhill Community Action (YCAP) and Donna Bowman, Executive Director of Klamath Lake Community Action Services (KLCAS) in front of the Supreme Court
We had productive meetings with Senator Wyden’s staff, Senator Merkley and his Chief of Staff, Matthew Traylor and Representative Suzanne Bonamici. During our visit with Representative Bonamici, Susannah Morgan, Executive Director of the Oregon Food Bank, joined us.
We asked questions about the president’s proposed budget and the healthcare replacement legislation developed by some members of Congress. We were encouraged to remain optimistic. We were encouraged to communicate members of Congress to express concerns and recommendations. Reauthorization of CSBG, along with funding for LiHEAP and Weatherization were included in our discussions about the budget.
Special guest speakers at the conference included Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative John Lewis. Senator Sanders reminded us of our responsibility to communicate with members of Congress about important issues (budget and healthcare) and to VOTE. Representative Lewis emphasized that the president’s current budget proposal is not right, fair or just. He encouraged us to “Speak up, speak out, get in trouble and enjoy the struggle!”
On the last day, attendees heard from J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Mr. Vance has been a guest on NPR and most of the late-night talk shows discussing his experience growing up in rural Kentucky and Ohio. His book provides those of us who do not have that experience a better understanding of why families in rural communities feel discounted and ignored.
There was much more and it was all good.
Contact our elected officials in Washington, D.C. today!
Congressional Senators for Oregon:
Congressional Representatives for Oregon:
- Representative Susan Bonamici D1
- Representative Greg Walden D2
- Representative Earl Blumenauer D3
- Representative Peter DeFazio D4
- Representative Kurt Schrader D5
Medford, Ore. — In 2015 ACCESS was awarded a 3 year, 6-million dollar federal grant for an SSVF program, or Supportive Services for Veteran Families. Since receiving it, over 600 homeless veterans in Jackson County have received housing help. But vacancy rates remain at historic lows, and that’s leaving 100 veterans waiting for something to open up.
Patricio Espinosa served in the US army in the 70’s. The 40 years that followed have been a series of highs and lows ,battling PTSD and homelessness.
4 months ago that changed. Espinosa got connected with the SSVF program, and now has his own apartment.
But he knows there’s others still waiting.
“There’s an incredible shortness of housing,” Patricio Espinosa says, “there isn’t housing.”
“We can only go so far,” Laura Stevens of ACCESS says, “without affordable housing, and without landlords it’s really tough.”
Over 400 veterans are projected to be in need of housing this year alone, but there’s very little availability for anyone in the rental market.
That’s why ACCESS is looking for more landlords willing to consider vets as tenants.
Angela Brumana of Allcities Property Management has been coordinating with ACCESS for 2 years now. She says it’s been a highly successful partnership.
“Rents paid on time, there’s usually never any problems, inspections go fabulous they take care of their units, I very rarely have any sort of issue,” Brumana says.
And while there’s many landlords like her, they need more of them to have continued success for vets like Espinosa.
If you’re a landlord and you’re interested in getting on their list, call ACCESS at 541-774-4307. Even if your rental is full now, they would love to work with you in the future.
Huge Shout Out to Chief Lindsey!
Veterans Service Officer Guy McKay attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court on Feb. 15 to present a quarterly report and discuss veterans programs.
McKay also updated the court regarding legislative action concerning veterans and veteran issues and provided copies of House Concurrent Resolution 6.
The resolution recognizes and honors Lance Cpl. Dale G. Peterson for his service. Peterson, who was raised in Burns, enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from Redmond High School in 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in March 2007 and killed in action April 23 of that year.
McKay also discussed veterans claims that have been granted.
Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh commended McKay for his work on behalf of veterans.
She reported that, over the course of nine years, McKay garnered $4,108,576 of monthly benefits and obtained $1,267,971 in retroactive benefits for veterans.
In addition to assisting veterans with compensation and pension claims, McKay administers education and training programs, federal home loan programs, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical and life insurance applications, burial and memorial benefit programs, and military record searches and record retention. He also assists veterans with reading and understanding federal legislation, including the interpretation and implementation of new laws.
He’s also a member of the Harney County Food Bank board, Harney County Emergency Management Steering Committee, and the Harney County Chapter of the Band of Brothers.
On top of that, McKay co-facilitates Living Well workshops with Harney District Hospital Outreach and Education Manager/ Nutrition Educator Amy Dobson. These free workshops assist veterans and community members who are living with chronic conditions, chronic pain, and chronic diabetes.
Addressing McKay, Dorroh said, “You may not know it, but I hear great things about your work and what you’ve done for people.”
She added that McKay is also “a kind person who helps vets on his own, out of his own pocket.”
Subsequently, McKay received a round of applause from the court and audience.
McKay was accompanied by Peggy Yarbor of Community in Action who attended the meeting to discuss the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.
Through this program, the VA awards grants to private, nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives that can provide supportive services to very low-income veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing.
Yarbor reported that the VA awarded SSVF funding to Community Action Partnership of Oregon in April 2015 to serve homeless or at risk veterans, adding that the goal for Harney and Malheur counties is to serve a combined total of at least 12 veterans. Six veterans have been served in Harney County so far, and efforts to assist additional veterans are ongoing.
Yarbor said those who are interested in applying for assistance should begin by filling out a service request packet.
In addition to assisting with housing, the program connects veterans to services, including guidance from employment specialists.
News from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
2016 County Health Rankings from RWJF
Finishing the Job: Rescuing Homeless Vets
As the mother of a veteran, and having cared for veterans during my nursing career, my concern for the well-being of veterans is constant. That’s why I hope that with Veterans Day behind us, we still recognize that we have much to do to serve our honored veterans, including the thousands who are homeless.
Robert Foley, a Navy veteran, was once one of those.
At 56, Robert still proudly wears a Navy cap with an American flag pin. A humble man, he talked recently of how, after a painful divorce, unemployment and the emergence of a bipolar disorder, he became homeless in 2011.
One night he found himself sleeping fitfully, wrapped in two thin blankets on the cold, hard concrete floor of a friend’s garage. “Him having to see me homeless made it even harder,” Robert said. “ It was really hard being right there in my home town in front of my best friend and not being able to take care of myself.”
At that point, Robert, who had served as a boiler technician in the Navy, was one of about 63,000 homeless veterans in the United States. Those veterans represented about 13.3 percent of all homeless adults, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The total number has since been declining, but much work remains to be done to truly bring them all home.
Moving through the hazardous, unfamiliar space of homelessness was challenging for Robert. “I lived on the streets, on peoples’ porches, in their garages, in barns or wherever I could get shelter,” he said. “When you’re homeless, accessing even your basic necessities, such as a shower, a restroom, a place to eat, somewhere to stay dry and clean, is difficult and stressful, even more so if you have medical or mental health issues. It was basically about survival. You think each day it will get better, but it doesn’t.”
He tried to muffle the voices of the past, declining to offer too much detail about his ordeal because, he said, “It’s too ugly”.
Holding him back during his travails were comments by fellow street people that seeking succor would be a sign of weakness. “One of the hardest things for me was reaching out for help when some people just said, ‘Be a man’.”
But he finally reached the end of his rope.
About a year and a half ago, he called the Veterans Administration’s nationwide crisis number. Within 2 hours he got a call from the homeless veterans program at the Portland VA Medical Center. He got taken care of there first, then headed to the Salvation Army’s Veterans and Family Center in Beaverton.
Robert arrived at the Center with nothing but the clothing he was wearing.
Working as a team, a multitude of organizations reached out to bring Robert back.
The Center, supported by VA dollars, Salvation Army funds, and supplementary private fundraising, is a comfortable, welcoming place that was formerly a retirement home. Robert had a rough transition at the start of his stay, but it provided him with much welcomed safety, shelter in a plain 18’ X 25’ room, three meals a day and clean clothes.
The Center helped him sign up for mental health classes and visits with a psychiatrist and primary care physician. Then, to help him stay on a positive path, he took a breathalyzer test for alcohol twice a day and random urinalysis tests for drugs.
Community Action of Washington County partnered with the Center by assigning a capable, caring caseworker to work closely with Robert and help him get back on track. She got him enrolled in a free Rent Well education class that helps train prospective renters who are having difficulty being accepted for rental units.
“A lot of our folks have barriers to housing,” said Rick Stoller, the Center’s Director. “Some have a criminal history, bad rental history, evictions, a lot of things.”
Community Action also gave Robert invaluable free bus passes, so he could make appointments and get around, and helped him find an apartment. “When I found an approved apartment, they went in, for my safety as well as the landlord’s, to inspect the apartment to make sure everything was adequate, paid the deposits that were required and paid for my drivers license,” he said.
After living at the Veterans Center for almost a year, Robert moved into his own apartment in Tigard, with his rent paid by HUD through the VA and his food covered by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). He has no extra spending money, but somehow he’s adjusted.
Robert continues to meet regularly with his Community Action caseworker to help deal with issues as they arise. “Having somebody to talk to that doesn’t look down on you, that helps a lot,” he said. “You feel comfortable. A lot of us don’t open up. We just bury all our problems and that doesn’t help at all.”
He also stays connected with the Center, coming back frequently to visit people, assist with the collection and distribution of clothes, mow the lawn and do other chores. “In giving help, it helps me,” he said. “If I can give back a little bit and everybody else is giving back, it helps another vet,” he said.
Robert’s full of gratitude for all the people who’ve stood by him and optimistic about his future. “I just want to say thanks to everybody,” he said. “Compared to a year and a half ago, this is tremendous. I’m ecstatic about life.”
Submitted by William MacKenzie, Communications Consultant Community Action of Washington County
Congressional Staff Find 40 Minutes Of Being Poor In America Exhausting
Working in Congress might be hard – but being poor is so much harder.
That’s the lesson several members of Congress and congressional staff members were able to learn in a poverty simulation held on Capitol Hill Tuesday, put together by Catholic Charities USA with the support of the Entergy Corporation. Catholic Charities has done these simulations elsewhere to give people insight into the total stress, confusion, and backbreaking toughness of being poor in America. With Congress responsible for dictating the legislation that can help, or hurt, poor and working families, this experience could not come at a better time.
At the start of the event, about 50 participants took on different identities and were told of their financial and familial circumstances before being thrust into the difficulties of life below the poverty line. During the course of each of four 10-minute “weeks,” they were responsible for paying rent, buying food, taking the children to school, and either working full-time jobs or applying to them.
At various locations around the room, participants could find a grocery store and a school (which was inconveniently closed for the entirety of week three). They could also find a homeless shelter, a juvenile hall, a jail, a payday advance service and a pawn shop, places almost exclusively patronized by America’s poor.
Emergency interruptions added to the realism, such as a “health and nutrition alert,” which demanded better and more food for the family, or a “sick child alert,” which required the participant to immediately pick up the child, represented by a baby doll, and provide childcare for the rest of the week. Often times, this meant losing a job.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) role-played as Ned, who earned only $330 a month on disability payments after a stroke left half of his body paralyzed. He said the experience of being knowingly cheated at the pawn shop and callously treated by its manager was “dehumanizing.”
Dealing with poverty’s uncertainty and anxiety left all the participants visibly exhausted. When asked, “So, how do you feel?” at the completion of the event, there was an audible and collective groan throughout the room. When asked the follow-up question, “How many families bought food all 4 weeks?” about five people in a room of almost 50 raised their hands. But when asked, “How many families were not able to buy food any week?” almost every hand was raised.
But this was just a simulation. While participants seemed to gain an appreciation for the very real experiences that the 46.5 million Americans living in poverty endure every day, the situation was temporary. Ideally, the memory of it will be permanent.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) exclaimed at the end of his first week as unemployed Albert Aber, “Poor people are the hardest working people in America.” As Congress continues to stall on minimum wage increases and paid family leave proposals, they will all do well to remember that.
Posted by Emily Divito for the Campaign for America’s Future website: www.ourfuture.org