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Honor promise of Bud Clark Commons

My View • City celebrates successes, but challenges lie ahead
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Jack Alexander says he might be dead if it weren’t for his apartment at Bud Clark Commons, where he is able to get treatment for a variety of ailments that would have hurt him on the street.

Six months ago, we opened the doors of Bud Clark Commons, the centerpiece of our community's fight to end homelessness. The award-winning, LEED Platinum building is named for former Mayor Bud Clark, the first Portland mayor to make homelessness an issue of citywide concern.

At the opening, we said that Bud Clark Commons would be the front door to an array of services, programs and opportunities for the homeless. Together, we pledged that the door would always be open, to anyone who needed a hand up (A community on common ground, Jan. 12).

Six months later, it's time to ask how we're doing.

Bud Clark Commons combines three distinct elements under one roof: shelter space for 90 men (including 45 veterans); 130 apartments for the most medically vulnerable; and a day center offering a wide variety of services for those in need.

It is a unique partnership among the city of Portland, Home Forward, Transition Projects, Multnomah County and dozens of other community partners ranging from MercyCorps to the University of Portland.

Who came through Bud Clark Commons' doors during the first six months?

The data tell one story: 130 chronically homeless people have a safe place to call home, access to mental health services, a primary health care provider and greater connection with their community. More than 4,300 people used the day center to look for jobs, shower, wash their clothes and check their mail. Our nonprofit partners helped nearly 300 people find permanent homes.

The people tell another story. Daniel (not his real name) is a military veteran who served our country in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1970s. Following his service, Daniel held jobs ranging from swimming pool maintenance to carpentry. Most recently, he worked as a fisherman in Alaska.

He is the father of three children and a grandfather of six.

For the past month, Daniel has been living at 'Doreen's Place,' Bud Clark Commons' shelter for men. He applies for jobs using the day center computers, and has become an active volunteer. Since Bud Clark Commons opened, we've helped dozens of veterans move to stable, permanent homes.

Tackling root causes

Then there's Audrey, a resident Peter Korn wrote about in this paper two weeks ago. After a decade without a home of her own, she moved into one of Bud Clark Commons' apartments. Like many people living on the street, Audrey battled mental health and substance abuse issues. Today, she regularly cooks dinner for several other residents on her floor, takes art classes and is planning to try her hand at crochet. She is a leader in her new community, mentoring other residents as they transition from the streets to a new life.

While we celebrate the success stories, and our shared progress, we also face new challenges. At a time of rising need, Congress is cutting vital housing programs. The city and state are facing painful budget cuts. And Portland doesn't control the root causes of homelessness: unemployment, a broken mental health system and rampant foreclosures are national problems that continue to push people onto our streets.

During this crisis, we all have a responsibility to continue Bud Clark's legacy of helping our neighbors in need. Whether serving meals to shelter residents with my son, visiting tenants in their first home, or talking to staff and volunteers about their experiences at the center, I have been a witness to genuine transformation in people's lives.

In the fight to end homelessness, we judge our success one person, one family at a time. For every Audrey and Daniel we help with a hand up to a better place, we honor the promise of Bud Clark Commons.

City Commissioner Nick Fish oversees the Portland Housing Bureau.