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Sweet way to change lives

by: PHOTO BY CURTIS REESOR - Jessica Reed holds her daughter, Nevaeh, 2, above. Reed is grateful to Northwest Housing Alternatives for believing in her and helping change her life.Northwest Housing Alternatives wants you to eat some chocolate and take a bite out of the high cost of housing in Oregon by attending the organization’s fundraising event, Home Sweet Home, on Sept. 20.

Local confectioners and coffee roasters will set up tables in the historic White Stag Building in Portland, and guests can sample treats, peruse silent auction offerings and listen to music from 3 Leg Torso.

Every penny raised goes directly to help families find safe, affordable housing, said Tim Collier, director of resource development for the organization.

The event also celebrates the 30th anniversary of the NHA, the largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing in the state of Oregon, Collier noted.

Although the chocolate tasting is in downtown Portland, NHA was “born and bred in Clackamas County,” he said.

The organization’s headquarters is adjacent to the Annie Ross House, on Southeast Willard Street in Milwaukie and operated by the NHA. It is the only emergency family shelter in Clackamas County, and serves families with children who are experiencing homelessness.

Transitional housing units are next door, providing a temporary living space for families as they get ready to move into permanent, affordable housing.

The NHA has expanded into 17 counties, Collier said, adding, “We have 1,658 affordable housing units throughout the state, providing homes for 2,600 Oregonians with low incomes, seniors on fixed incomes and adults with disabilities.”

Stronger communities

“What we believe, is that everyone needs a place to call home; that is one of the important building blocks. A safe home gives people who may not have started out with all the advantages a sense of their own potential and worth,” noted Martha McLennan, Northwest Housing Alternatives’ executive director.

She estimated that the organization has helped tens of thousands of people, and noted that there is still so much more to be done. Both she and Collier noted that the need for community support for NHA is greater every year, and that there is a payoff for individuals and businesses that are willing to get involved.

“The whole community is stronger when there are affordable homes for families and others,” McLennan said. “Seniors can live independently, and folks with disabilities can live with dignity.”

“We grew out of nothing to become a leader, but we need people to invest in what we’re doing. The next 30 years are not going to be easy,” Collier said.

This election season continues to stress the importance of job creating, and NHA has that covered, he said, noting that the organization has created thousands of construction jobs and more than 630 permanent jobs in Oregon.

“According to the National Association of Home Builders, every 100 units of affordable housing developed create 151 jobs during construction and 38 permanent jobs supported by each building’s residents,” Collier added, noting that other nearby businesses thrive when residents move in and begin buying food, household items and school supplies.

Community support

“We work smart,” he said. “But we need more people dropping by with food for the shelter and donating money. We need more volunteers, we need support from local community and political groups, and we need business leaders to partner with us so that more Oregonians have a home to go to at night.”

Volunteers can sponsor events and help the organization raise awareness; businesses can organize employee food or personal-care product drives; artists, builders and teachers can donate services.

“Whatever skill set you have, we can use it,” Collier said.

He noted that employees from Clackamas County-based Warn Industries, a company that makes off-road equipment for sport and utility vehicles, have focused on raising funds for the Annie Ross House for many years.

“The employees give us manpower and money. At Christmas, they purchase gifts for all the families living on campus, giving them toys and food boxes so they can have a normal holiday,” Collier said. “They have purchased mattresses for transitional housing and playground equipment — when we need them, they are there.

McLennan said what gives her the most pride in the organization is her staff, board and team, who approach their jobs with a passion for the mission of NHA.

She particularly loves to meet new residents and hear their stories about how important housing is in their lives, and how important the support system is, along with the services offered.

She described one couple who had just moved into affordable housing and received a goody basket with household necessities.

“They said it was the first time in their lives they ever had matching towels. That gave them so much pride and appreciation,” McLennan said.

Jessica’s story

One person who is eager to share her story, and explain how NHA changed her life, is Jessica Reed, who cares for her disabled mother and her own three young children.

She originally became homeless in 2006, when her apartment building was sold and she lost her lease. Then her work hours were cut, and she and her family began staying in shelters, but they were forced to leave after 30 days. They lived for a while in a motel, but the cost of that ate up her savings.

In 2009, Reed found out about the Annie Ross House; she and her family moved into the shelter in November of that year, and into transitional housing in April 2010. In September 2010, they moved into River Glen Apartments in Gladstone, an affordable-housing facility managed by Northwest Housing Alternatives.

For Reed, the huge plus factor offered by the NHA is the resident services.

“I worked with a case manager to set out an action plan for the week; we set goals that were not unrealistic. If I needed more time, she did not abandon me. There is a resident coordinator at the apartment complex now; anytime I ask for something I am pointed in the direction I need — it is like a family,” she said.

“I feel really blessed; I struggled with homelessness for years, and every time I would get up, something knocked me down. But NHA gave my family a safe place to be; they worked with me and my family and they trusted me, and that means so much to me,” Reed added.

And now she takes pride in sharing her story, but even more, she has the desire to give back.

“Anytime Tim calls and asks for something, I say yes. I bake goodies for the office staff, I help out at a women’s group at church, and I volunteer in my sister’s special education class,” she said.

But even more, Reed is getting ready to start classes at Clackamas Community College to get her degree in human and social services.

“Lisa Judd, my caseworker, set me on fire for social work,” Reed said. “Every client, I’m going to help them help themselves. I won’t give a handout, I’ll give a hand up. I’m going to encourage people to keep trying and striving, and I’m going to give them the tools to do that.”

“Her children are blossoming; they feel safe and all are thriving,” Collier said, noting that services offered make the difference in the lives of the residents.

“Getting a roof over their heads doesn’t mean they are safe and healthy. We provide referral services and we coordinate nursing visits to the homes of seniors. We work on community building, eviction protection, financial education and emergency food boxes. Most importantly, they know who to call for help.”

Home Sweet Home

Sept. 20, from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Venue: The White Stag Building, 70 N.W. Couch St., Portland

Details: Local Oregon confectioners will serve sweet samples of chocolate — cupcakes, gelato, vegan truffles and many other items. Live music will be provided by 3 Leg Torso, and a silent auction will add to the fun. For more information, contact Tim Collier, 503-654-1007, ext. 113.

Vendors include: Bella Cupcake, Fleur De Lis Bakery and Café, Holy Kakow, Indichocolates, J. Gelati Italian Ice and Frozen Custard, Legato Chocolate Company, Missionary Chocolates, Roll Chocolates, Rose City Sweets, Sterling Catering, Stirs the Soul, What’s the Scoop and Zbeanz.

For more information about Northwest Housing Alternatives and the Annie Ross House, and to find out more about ways to volunteer or donate to the organization, visit nwhousing.org or call Tim Collier, 503-654-1007, ext. 113.