SAFES at Fairbridge initially will have space for 50 women

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF JANET PARDO - Salvation Army resident assistants Carol Rippetoe, left, and Becky Tunon help celebrate the dedication of the SAFES at Fairbridge facilities, including this kitchen, on Thursday, May 16.
Sundown for most people is a time to unwind and spend time with family and friends. For the homeless, however, the end of the day triggers an alarm, as they often must seek shelter under bridges, on park benches or in the doorways of businesses.

For women who are homeless, the hazards of the night — and of makeshift sleeping arrangements — are all too real. Assault and disease always lurk nearby. Of the total number of people considered homeless inside Multnomah County — estimated at more than 4,700 in 2011 — 37 percent are women.

This week, the Salvation Army took an additional step toward assisting these vulnerable women as it opens a newly renovated facility to help homeless women transition to housing. Among other services, the Salvation Army Female Emergency Shelter — SAFES — facility will provide 50 women a place to rest for 30 consecutive days in the former Harbor Light building at Southwest Second Avenue and Burnside. During this 30-day period, advocates will work with the women to connect them with services needed to help them overcome their homeless situations.

The new shelter, to be called SAFES at Fairbridge, received funding from the Fairbridge Foundation. In addition to the 50-woman dorm, it includes a day shelter, kitchen and classrooms.

An open house sponsored by Key Bank on Thursday, May 16, allowed guests to tour the facility. The tour began in a welcoming, spacious lobby that is accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Anchored on the north end is an intake desk and on the south is an open kitchen separated from the lobby by a counter topped by an industrial coffee maker.

“We’re excited this kitchen will allow us to provide hot breakfast and lunch,” said Becky Tunon, a day-resident assistant at SAFES at Fairbridge. “There are other places nearby that serve dinner.”

Food for the kitchen is supplied by Oregon Food Bank, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Stumptown Coffee.

What appears to be a gym off the lobby is actually the dormitory. Here, 50 metal cots will be placed two by two — either head-to-head or toe-to-toe — to allow the women a sense of privacy. There are no partitions, and small drawers under the beds provide personal storage. Showers and restrooms also meet ADA requirements. The facility includes a heat room, where all the women’s possessions are stored upon check-in. It is needed to eradicate lice, roaches and bedbugs.

The administrative offices on the upper level are where advocates will work with the shelter’s clients. Advocates will help women connect to agencies that can provide stability in the areas of health, jobs and housing. No medical facilities are on the premises, although toiletries and basic first-aid supplies are available behind the intake desk.

“One of the biggest problems that we see is a need for foot care.” Tunon said. “We help with Band-Aids and antibacterial cream.”

SAFES is a low-barrier shelter, where alcohol and drugs are not permitted on site. Women who come to the shelter intoxicated will be allowed to stay there, but they cannot use alcohol or drugs while in the shelter. If a client is found to be using drugs or alcohol or have it in their possession while in the building, they are asked to leave the shelter.

With 50 beds available, women will often encounter a waiting list after the shelter officially opens on Wednesday. Women with children will be referred to other shelters, because children are not allowed at SAFES. However, the Salvation Army will allow some participants “to have their stay extended on an individual basis depending on situation and progress in the program,” according to SAFES documents.

Eventually, the upper floors will contain single-woman occupancy rooms for longer stays. In the meantime, the staff at SAFES at Fairbridge is looking forward to this Wednesday’s opening.

“The energy is really good,” Tunon said.

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