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Housing advocate receives prestigious honor

It’s an honor whose winners include state and local heavy hitters, such as Edith Green, Fred G. Meyer, Glenn Jackson and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.

Now, East Multnomah County’s very own Jean DeMaster joins the list of 85 Portland First Citizen Award winners.

“There are all these people of prominence,” said DeMaster of the prior winners. “And then there’s me.”

For 40 years, DeMaster has worked in social services as an advocate for the homeless, underserved and poverty-stricken. She’s spent the past decade serving as executive director of Human Solutions, an East County-based agency dedicated to helping low-income and homeless families and individuals become self-sufficient by providing affordable housing, employment and family/social services.

So it’s both appropriate and ironic that DeMaster — who has helped provide emergency, transitional and affordable housing to thousands — is being honored with an award presented by a professional organization whose members serve homeowners.

“This award is all about civic involvement,” said Kathy Querin, chief executive officer of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, which will present the award to DeMaster during a banquet in her honor Wednesday, April 10.

The Portland First Citizen Award was created in 1928 by the Portland Realty Board, now called the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, to honor civic achievements and business leadership with the community.

“Jean had done such incredible work in her community. As Realtors we recognize that home ownership simply isn’t available to everyone. The number of people she has helped shelter is incredible. Her dedication is practically unsurpassed,” Querin said.

Last year, more than 90,000 people and families in outer East Portland and East Multnomah County received services through Human Solutions — everything from short-term emergency rent assistance to avoid eviction to job training to help paying a utility bill.

On any given night, Human Solutions provides housing or emergency shelter for approximately 730 homeless people in more than 240 families.

DeMaster, who is 66 and lives in the Wilkes West neighborhood, found out she’d received the honor two weeks ago when Carla Piluso, president of the Human Solutions’ Board of Directors, asked to meet with her.

At first, DeMaster was a nervous, since it’s a bit like getting called into your boss’s office for a chat.

But when Piluso told DeMaster she’d been selected from 40 nominees as the 2013 Portland First Citizen, DeMaster was shocked.

“I was totally stunned — to tell you the truth, I was just stunned,” DeMaster said.

While under DeMaster’s leadership, Human Solutions has gone from a small rental assistance agency to one of East Multnomah County’s largest charities, serving more than 7,000 households a year.

DeMaster partnered with 30 churches to develop a shelter/aid network for homeless families. One congregation in Parkrose even teamed up with Human Solutions to use parts of its church as a shelter for homeless families during cold and wet winter months.

During her tenure with Human Solutions, DeMaster has worked for seven years with local, state and federal government agencies along with businesses, development partners and community representatives to create a center where low-income East County residents could access various services under one roof, near the light-rail line and in one of the area’s poorest neighborhoods.

In October 2011, the $19.2 million Rockwood Building opened just north of Northeast 181st Avenue and East Burnside Street.

It includes 47 units of low-income housing, 15 of which are for previously homeless families, as well as office/facility space for seven nonprofit human-service agencies, including Mt. Hood Head Start, Loaves & Fishes, The Wallace Medical Concern, LifeWorks Northwest and Metropolitan Family Service, and Mt. Hood Community College.




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