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Shelter from the Storm

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ  - Cally Lamothe, right, sits with her children, Ethan, center, and Zoe, as well as their friend, Daiqwan, left. They live at Tigard's Good Neighbor Center.Christmas came during the Lamothe family’s sixth and final week staying at the Good Neighbor Center shelter. The family of five — Cally, 30, Noel, 46, and their children Zoe, 8, Ethan, 10, and the family’s companion animal, Crissy, a devoted German shorthair pointer — were about to receive Noel’s final emergency unemployment check.

By Noel’s estimate, he had sent out hundreds of job applications throughout the year.

According to the most recent data collected by Oregon Housing and Community Services, the Lamothes aren’t atypical in their change of fortune. The top three most common causes of homelessness in Washington County are unemployment, unaffordable rent and substance abuse within the household. The first two factors describe the Lamothes’ experience.

About 13 miles away, 26-year-old Amber Dement was weighing her housing options during her last two weeks at Community Action’s shelter in Hillsboro. She admitted that substance abuse played a significant role in her homeless status. Now sober, Amber is struggling to gather the resources that would allow her to provide stability to her two children, Miguel, 8, and Mariela, 7. Living with her mother and stepfather in Gresham proved untenable for Amber, so with no job, little money and eight days’ worth of weekend jail time to serve for a prior conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol, she turned to Community Action for help.

According to the Oregon Housing and Community Services’ 2011 Report on Poverty, 31 percent of people living at or below the poverty line in Washington County are single mothers, or those living in a household headed by a single mother. The poverty rate increased by 14 percent between 2006 and 2010, and by 2012 standards, a three-person household with an annual income below $19,090 is considered to be living in poverty.

Around the time the Lamothes realized they’d have to give up their Raleigh Hills apartment, they learned about a number to call if you’re staring down the prospect of living on the streets. That number — 503-640-3263 — can prove a lifeline for families and individuals in immediate need of shelter, or for households unable to make rent or keep the power on. It connects callers to Community Action, a shelter and resource center which, along with Good Neighbor Center and Family Bridge, in Hillsboro, focuses on rehousing services. Those in the Lamothes’ situation are put on a waitlist to be placed in one of the three family shelters.

Upon arrival at one of Washington County’s three family shelters, families are assigned a case manager or advocate who aids them in their search for permanent housing. Families can stay at the shelter for a maximum of six weeks, Browning explained.

While the center does sometimes host repeat residents, families can only stay at each facility once a year. This is meant to guarantee equal access to shelter for all homeless families, but the limit further emphasizes the perils of housing insecurity countywide. There has been such high demand for the Section 8 housing voucher program that Washington County closed the service’s waiting list in September 2011. At that point, the wait for rental and utilities assistance for low-income households was more than three years.

While Community Action’s approach has successfully kept many area families off the street, need far exceeds the organization’s resources, according to manager of housing and homeless services Pat Rogers. From July 2 through Dec. 2, 2012, the organization received about 10,400 calls regarding housing and energy assistance.

Lacking the resources to prioritize such a large volume of calls, Community Action awards assistance on a “first-come, first-served” basis, Rogers said.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ  - Crissy is a companion animal to the Lamothe family, which includes Noel and Cally and their children Ethan and Zoe. The five of them lived at Tigard's Good Neighbor Center shelter for six weeks. Here, Crissy poses beside the gifts the family received from the shelter on Christmas Eve, 2012.

The single man

Even with a considerable waitlist, there are arguably far more resources for homeless families than there are for single homeless men like an occasional Tualatin resident who asked to be identified only as Allen.

Well-coiffed, smartly dressed in a blazer over a sweater, 53-year-old Allen doesn’t have the look of a man who lives in his car and depends on the facilities at the Sherwood YMCA to maintain his hygiene regimen. Once securely employed in construction, Allen was laid off more than two years ago. He has family in the area. When his unemployment benefits ran out, he moved to Arizona for six months to live with his parents and save money.

Back in Oregon, Allen could find only sporadic work. He was soon living in a van donated by a local church, and now lives out of a sedan.

It is a lifestyle he describes as “playing Zorro,” and it’s a life of hyper-vigilance: Allen estimates he averages about three hours of sleep a night, and he has lost so much weight his pant size has gone from 36 to 31 inches.

Like the Lamothes and the Dements, Allen identifies as a new kind of homeless demographic.

“People like myself, there’s a lot of them out there. You’re not going to find them because they don’t want to show themselves,” he said.

Single men represent 56 percent of the total homeless population in Washington County, and 39 percent of those living on the street. They are also the demographic for whom there are the fewest shelter resources available.

There is the Bridges to Change Mentor House in Hillsboro, which works with the county’s Department of Housing Services to offer a 90-day rehabilitation program geared toward both men and women recently paroled from prison. Fairhaven Recovery Home is a Christian nonprofit that offers transitional facilities for those attempting to overcome addiction.

But beds are limited for those like Allen: homeless, but with no legal or substance abuse obstacles to overcome, resources can seem scant. Churches and faith-based organizations attempt to bridge the gap by offering seasonal shelters and warming centers.

Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin offers shelter every Wednesday during winter, according to community global outreach director Faith Carter. Homeless guests are invited from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. the following morning, during which time they can access the food pantry, take hot showers and wash their clothes. The facility is open every night when the county declares severe weather.

This requires a flexible volunteer base to run the shelter: Rolling Hills aims to provide one volunteer for every five guests, and the facility can comfortably accommodate more than 20 people, Carter said.

Allen came to Rolling Hills to take advantage of the Tualatin Food Pantry there. He was at first reluctant to take advantage of charity, but with the food pantry as his entry point, Allen found immense comfort in the church, he said. Having lost his apartment, savings and a relationship as a result of his homelessness, he admits he was at one point suicidal.

The big tally

The Oregon Housing and Community Service Department conducts what had until last year been an annual count of the statewide homeless population. For the agency’s purposes, a person may be classified as “homeless” if he is living in emergency or transitional housing, residing “somewhere not intended for human habitation” or on the street, or if he is using a voucher to remain at a motel, hotel or campground.

These counts take place statewide on a single night on odd-numbered years, with the next one occurring late this month. The survey includes homeless Oregonians staying in transitional housing, as well as those classified as “unsheltered,” according to the agency’s research analyst Natasha Detweiler.

Known as Point in Time Homeless Count, the comprehensive study is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which awards funding for housing resource programs through the Continuum of Care Program. Any state wishing to apply for such funds must complete identical surveys.

A collaboration between the cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro and Tigard, as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, presented A Road Home: The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Washington County to the Washington County Board of Commissioners in early 2008.

The plan was in response to a dramatic increase in homelessness in Washington County, and in response to a worsening economic situation: From 2007 through 2011, foreclosure notices of default increased 282 percent, according to Annette M. Evans, chairwoman of the Housing and Supportive Services Network for the Washington County Department of Housing Services.

The plan’s three primary approaches were to increase and expedite access to affordable housing, to integrate housing assistance services with resource agencies that address common underlying causes of homelessness (including insufficient mental health and medical care) and to increase livable wage opportunities for the homeless population.

Although similar programs exist nationally and throughout the state, A Road Home is based on the precept that “homelessness is recognized as a complex socio-economic problem that requires a multi-part solution,” the report stated. The most recent assessment report to the Board of Commissioners, submitted in 2011, outlined the program’s successes: 1,919 households avoided eviction with the aid of nonprofit and faith-based organizations involved in the 10-year plan.

As the plan heads into its fifth year, the county’s housing service providers will put an increased focus on reducing the length of homelessness, and aims to increase homelessness prevention through “rapid re-housing programs,” Evans said.

In addition, there will be greater collaboration with specific institutions “to prevent homelessness upon discharge.”




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