Rose Haven Guest, GG is interviewed by The Portland Tribune

Check out this article written by Joseph Gallivan featuring GG, our beloved Rose Haven Guest! GG provides valuable insight into her life living on the streets of Portland. She discusses barriers to receiving her emergency COVID unemployment checks, SNAP benefits, and affordable housing.

Photo by Joseph Gallivan

Read the full article here or visit the Portland Tribune.

GG (it stands for Gangsta Geisha) was rearranging her stuff under the I-405 overpass on a Friday afternoon, a few days before the winter solstice. The temperature was in the 30s, and she was lightly dressed and wore a blonde wig that sparkled in the wintry sunset. The Christmas tree outside her tent was a little tousled, its lone streamer coming loose. She’d had lights, but now she hasn’t.

“They steal my artwork, they’ll watch you work then steal what you’re making. It’s no hustle to steal someone else’s muscle,” she said.

She showed off an abstract painting done in acrylics. GG had finished it the day before by painting a large “G” on top of the design, then left it outside her tent with some of her other belongings: a beaver pelt stretched on a frame, some metal shelving, a shopping cart that acts as a pantry, a bike with a kid’s trailer, and driftwood.

GG has been living outside for four years. She used to be in an apartment over Next Adventure on Southeast Grand Avenue, then things unraveled, and she lived in her Chevy Trailblazer for a while. That was impounded at Northwest 19th Avenue and Thurman with several other vehicles that were green tagged, although hers, she said, was the only legal one.

She came to Northwest Portland to use a woman’s shelter.

Photo by Joseph Gallivan

“The beautiful ladies at Rose Haven have been a wonderful help for me,” she said.

Then she moved into a tent at Northwest 16th and Overton Street.

Would she move to one of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed full-service camps that will house hundreds of tents?

“No, absolutely not. I didn’t come out here to be rounded up and silenced. I came out here to live out loud,” GG said.

This sheltered strip of Northwest 16th Avenue was swept of tents in January 2022, but recently has been repopulated with about two dozen tents.

She came with baggage. “This is stuff that we build because we’re constantly having to move and then tear down. With the rain and the elements and whatever, we are always constantly having to rebuild.”

Her heroes

GG sees herself as an artist and an activist.

“Gangsta Geisha is my superhero I developed few years back,” she explained. “Art is my life, it’s my warfare and my religion. Art saved my life. When I’ve had nothing else, I’ve had art.”

Living on the street is a form of protest.

“I do it for my heroes. Gangsta Geisha I developed to help disenfranchised people, but I do it for my heroes Malcolm X., Martin Luther King, Jr. Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Colin Kaepernick, and my son, Marlon James Wilson. He’s my hero, he’s 10 years old.”

The boy lives in Troutdale with his father, who has remarried. “It’s very hard to get ahold of him,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.

GG said she is awaiting $16,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits which she has been too busy to track down. She would, however, move to an apartment if one was available. “I’m ready. I don’t know how many of my nine lives that have left.”

Lone wolf

GG recounts recent assaults, just in 2021, include being maced in the face on her 49th birthday for rummaging in someone’s recycling at 1.30 a.m.; being punched in the eye on Valentine’s Day, such that her left retina is now more sensitive to light than is comfortable; and being abducted by a taxi driver who pulled a Glock pistol from his glovebox when she said she wanted to get out. Two weeks ago, says, she was hospitalized with pneumonia. “I’m going to be half a century on Jan. 26,” GG said.

She calls herself a “lone wolf” on the street, because she has not partnered up for security. However, she feels she can count on her neighbors in the tents to either side. Watching from a few yards to the south is Chris, a big white man in a Seahawks jersey. To the north is Vampire Apache.

“He’s Apache, and he says he’s a vampire, but yeah, he looks out for me,” GG says. “And my good friend, Chris. But other than that, I’m out there alone. I stand alone, but that’s OK. I knew I was going to be alone. Even before I moved out of my apartment.”

As she talks, there are interruptions. A man crosses the street to bum a smoke, but GG was about to ask him the same thing. An African American woman, maybe early 20s, stops to ask where she can get bottled water. GG offers her a drink from her plastic water bottle, which has her afternoon cocktail, coconut water and vodka. “I like to hydrate while I dehydrate,” GG quipped.

A white guy in his 40s comes by stapling flyers to trees in search of his lost bike. It was stolen from his apartment building garage. They chat amiably and socially distanced. He asks GG if she’s seen a certain man who might know more about the bike, but she has not.

Zombie Apocalypse

Drugs, to her, are making street dwellers into zombies. “There’s a lot of people that are hooked on heroin and blues (fentanyl), or whatever, and it’s making them do things that I don’t even know if they’re human anymore. It’s a zombie apocalypse.”

She speaks rapidly and jumps from subject to subject, rarely completing a thought.

“People know me as GG, but I was born Amy Jo Wilson. I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I moved to Portland 20 years ago. I’ve been to three universities, I’m really, truly a blessed woman,” she said.

They were Baptist Bible College, which is now Clarks Summit University (dual major psychology and theology), Rutgers University Camden campus (English major) and Concordia University (teaching English as a second language).

What does she like about Portland?

“The fact that I found my son’s father and had my son here. I love the trees. I love our parks and our forest.”

She just finished reading Seth Godin’s motivational book “Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?” She writes poetry and is working on a musical.

“Four years ago, I put my stuff in storage to come and do research on housing assistance and social injustice. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about classism, racism and the war machine as the trifecta keeping us from our spiritual growth as a nation and in humanity. I’m trying to build bridges and connections where there were none.”

Phone home

Her SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) card ran out last year and she has had trouble getting it reinstated, especially since she does not have a phone. But food is usually at hand. Strangers left a flat of bell peppers by the side of the road near her tent, and a pineapple in her shopping cart. “People have been very generous, they’ve been dropping off boxes of food with a lot of Trader Joe’s stuff in it, and a lot of salad stuff,” GG said.

She’ll definitely be here for Christmas. Talking of connecting with her son brings tears to her eyes, again. But GG likes this spot under the bridge.

“It’s a decent spot. I mean, really, it’s about what we bring to it.”


Blanchet House, Rose Haven and the Union Gospel Mission all have need of coats this year and have seen donations slow down.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As temperatures start to get colder, nonprofits across Portland are calling on the community’s help for donations of warm winter clothes that they can distribute to people who are struggling, many of them homeless.

Scott Kerman with Blanchet House said they serve 1,400 to 1,500 meals each day to clients that live on the streets. He said they really need donations of winter jackets that are in good condition. People can drop the jackets off at their location on Northwest Glisan Street, and people in need can pick coats up from there as well. [Read the full article here.]

Rose Haven kid with Santa

Source: KOIN

Community members donated many of the special raffles and gift bags that were distributed at Thursday’s party.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Rose Haven community center has treated its guests to a can’t-miss holiday party annually since 1997, rain or shine. And that was no different this year.

Rose Haven kid with Santa

“We are the only day shelter and community center in Portland serving people marginalized by their gender,” Rose Haven Development Director Liz Starke said. “So 25 years ago, we were founded as a place for women and children. And now, we welcome anybody who is trans or nonbinary as well. And today, we had our holiday party for 190 of our guests, most of which are experiencing homelessness.”

The holidays are a difficult time for many [read the full article here.]

Rose Haven Partners with Sheltersuit

An international fashion designer is helping homeless people on the streets of Portland. Bas Timmer is from the Netherlands. He created The Sheltersuit Foundation after a friend’s father, who was homeless, died from hypothermia. “So, it is a very comfortable mattress with an opening, so you can add extra layering,” Timmer said. “It has a big hood that’s waterproof and, of course, a waterproof layer on top, with ventilation at bottom and if you need to move (you) zip open, roll up easily, and are ready to move.

On Wednesday November 9th Rose Haven distributed Sheltersuits to our houseless neighbors. In a partnership with Greater Good Northwest and TPI, we are able to bring these critical products to the Western United States, all the way from where they were produced in South Africa.

Sheltersuit is an organization based in the Netherlands that sustainably creates wearable shelters with recycled materials. These “Sheltersuits” can be unzipped to wear as a heavy duty jacket, re-assembled into a large sleeping bag, and rolled up to wear as a backpack. The material itself is surprisingly lightweight; something that often cannot be said for tents or sleeping bags. With all of the barriers that our houseless neighbors face, creating ease with lightweight materials and portability can provide some relief to those without shelter.

“For the folks who are living outside in Oregon this is so critical,” said Liz Starke, development director at Rose Haven. “If you’re sleeping outside and your sleeping bag gets wet and you don’t have a tent, it basically becomes disposable, it becomes really heavy, soaking wet.

Read more here:

Showcase at Portland Fashion Week

On Thursday, August 18th, Rose Haven  participated in the sustainable apparel runway at Portland Fashion Week. We showcased 10 up-cycled garments made of entirely donated materials and created by guests and volunteers in our sewing class.

We also took this opportunity to give a sneak peak into a very exciting new partnership: we teamed up with Sheltersuit to present donated sheltersuits and shelterbags on the runway.


trauma-informed design

Our trauma-informed facility is an award-winning design!

The Gensler Design Firm has won the 2022 Design Excellence Awards from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) for their interior design work here at Rose Haven.

Our interior design was selected for the People’s Choice Award, the Impact Award (Social), and as an Honorable Mention in the Public & Civic design category. Everything from the lighting and furniture to the flow and color palette were carefully selected with trauma-informed design in mind. 

Gensler Portland generously provided their services pro-bono to design our shelter with a trauma informed lens, but it was our guests’ input that played a vital role in shaping the space into a welcoming, safe, and uplifting environment for all. 

These design awards recognize the collaborative effort of our guests, volunteers, staff, and the Gensler team. We could not have opened the space without them and the generous contributions from the Portland community. 


Executive Directors of Four Grassroots Organizations Came Together to Collectively Ask for Help from our Community

Executive directors of four major nonprofit organizations in Portland collaborated to publish an op-ed in The Oregonian regarding our citywide homeless crisis. This piece was put together by Scott Kerman at Blanchet House, Katie O’Brien at Rose Haven, Carrie Hoops at William Temple House, and Michelle Meyer at Maybelle Center for Community.

Read the full story below and on The Oregonian’s website here. You can help us help Portland by sharing this op-ed far and wide on Facebook and Twitter!

Blanchet House served those in need throughout the pandemic. The organization has since returned to in-person meals. The executive director of the organization, along with the executive directors of three other groups, write that they are struggling to continue providing services to the needy amid daily violence in our neighborhoods and the community’s addiction and mental health crises.

Scott Kerman, Katie O’Brien, Carrie Hoops and Michelle Meyer

Kerman is executive director of Blanchet House. O’Brien is executive director of Rose Haven. Hoops is executive director of William Temple House. Meyer is executive director of Maybelle Center for Community.

This is hard to write because it might sound like we’re giving up. We’re not – but we need help.

As the executive directors of Blanchet House, Rose Haven, William Temple House and Maybelle Center for Community, we are committed to serving vulnerable people living on the margins – the disconnected, discounted and often forgotten. With collectively 180-plus years of service in Portland, our nonprofit organizations are the ones that people in need turn to for help, whether it’s food, clothing, mental health counseling, showers, health care, shelter, housing or simply to find community with others.

We are not government agencies, but we provide public benefits and services. We are privately funded by generous individuals, businesses, foundations and grants ­– not government contracts ­– and have successfully operated with lean budgets and staff. But in the past two years, our costs have skyrocketed as the toll of the community’s mental health and addiction crisis has fallen on us to manage, along with the growing need to protect the safety of our clients, staff and volunteers. We need our local government to confront today’s unprecedented circumstances, help shoulder the load in meeting these needs and summon the creativity and urgency to change the on-the-ground reality right now.

In the Old Town and Northwest Portland neighborhoods where we work, we serve amidst elevated levels of daily violence – violence that victimizes our clients and the people trying to help them. A man was brutally stabbed outside one of our organizations this summer. A man in mental health crisis smashed a bystander’s head with a rock, severely injuring him. A woman in a wheelchair was left at the doorstep of one of our organizations. We spent all day trying to find an agency willing to help her. None were.

We are not giving up, but we must be realistic about our ability to continue in this environment, which makes it harder to recruit volunteers and burns out staff members, without whom there are no services.

Make no mistake. Our volunteers and staff members are made of strong stuff. After all, we’ve never exactly served in a comfortable, easy environment. Compassionate, mission-driven and dedicated, they come downtown and stick with us through hardship and tragedy. But it feels like we’re approaching a breaking point. If the services we provide disappeared, the impact on our city would be immediate and glaring. Our organizations could disappear, but the people who need us will not.

What can the city and county do to help? First, they can free up funding to help us provide these public benefits during this incredibly precarious time. Clear bureaucratic hurdles and help us pay these irreplaceable workers. If the city can spend millions on private security for city-owned properties, it can help defray the costs of employing and protecting nonprofit workers providing meals and support to those in need.

It also is time to abandon pre-pandemic ways of assessing need and how we should respond. For example, right now because they are not deemed “a danger to themselves or others,” too many truly vulnerable, defenseless people are simply left to play out the rest of their lives in madness or addiction, victimized and brutalized until they die or are jailed. This is unacceptable and requires legislative attention to our civil commitment laws.

We need a cohesive plan for what to do with sick, injured, or traumatized people. Right now, too many people are dropped at our doors because our hospitals and emergency services don’t know what else to do with them. We aren’t designed to care for everyone.

We also need our civic agencies to reassess what serving with urgency and to scale means in this crisis. This will take returning city and county employees to their offices because how can you know what we’re dealing with if you’re not living it every day like we are?

And when we have new ideas and programs to meet the moment, let’s streamline the process of getting them started. The city and county should recognize that independent agencies can do remarkable things for our community faster and often more efficiently. Provide funding, and we will innovate, collaborate and lead.

In fact, we’ve already proven what we can do together. Recently, Multnomah County agreed to fund peer support specialists who visit our organizations daily. These mentors, who have lived experience with addiction and homelessness, help deescalate situations and provide resources to our clients.

The new and innovative Old Town InReach Program, ­ which we designed and advocated for – is helping. But it is not enough. It is not a substitute for public safety, so we are left to provide for our own security – some of us with 24/7 safety staff wearing bulletproof vests.

Yes, it will take time to repair a broken mental health system, build affordable housing, and expand programs like Portland Street Response. But time is not on our side. We need the city and county to respond like their hair is on fire. Because it is. What might happen months or years from now won’t help today.

We’re ready to collaborate and do our part, something we and our colleague nonprofit agencies have proven during this crisis. We are not giving up and we don’t want to give up.

But we need to see substantive, meaningful and urgent responses that show us the city and county haven’t given up themselves.

Rose Haven’s new space was highlighted in an article from The Architect’s Newspaper, written by Matt Hickman. Matt goes into detail about our vision for our new Home for the Haven, and how Gensler helped us bring our dream to fruition. You can read through the article below and see the lovely way in which the photographer for Gensler, Stephen A. Miller, captured the new building.

Find the full article here on AN’s website!

Gensler’s revamp of a Portland day shelter for women and children brings trauma-informed design to the forefront

Gensler Portland—one of three offices that comprise the global design firm’s Cascadia regional division along with Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.—has unveiled its interior refresh of Rose Haven, a low-barrier day shelter and community center dedicated to supporting women, children, and gender-diverse individuals experiencing homelessness, abuse, and other turbulent life events. Located in Northwest Portland, the facility provides a critical—and singular—service for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

As noted by Gensler, Oregon has the second-highest rate of homelessness in the country, with 35 out of every 10,000 residents in the state lacking safe, permanent shelter, making organizations like Rose Haven all the more critical.

With the aim to “create a space that embodies the emotional connection users have to Rose Haven,” Gensler Portland took on the project pro-bono, which in addition to the interior design services for the nonprofit’s new 10,500-square-foot home on NW Glisan Street—a space three times larger than the 25-year-old organization’s previous facility in the basement of a nearby church—also entailed a brand identity revamp, including a new logo design, typography, and trauma-informed color palette. The new logo celebrates the Rose—a legacy symbol of the organization—by representing Rose Haven’s diverse community coming together with each petal,” Gensler explained in a project overview.

Boasting a fresh new logo, Rose Haven is located not too far from its old longtime location in a church basement. (Photographer: Stephen A. Miller/Courtesy Gensler Portland)
The new facility includes a boutique where guests can peruse donated fashions. (Photographer: Stephen A. Miller/Courtesy Gensler Portland)

Featuring exposed wood beams, ample natural light, and furnishings that promote a warm, safe, and open atmosphere, the space itself includes an intake and reception area, activity rooms, community dining room, guest services area, prep-kitchen and pantry, wellness area with showers, laundry and medic room, and a “boutique-inspired area” where guests can select clothing donated to Rose Haven. Joining the guest-facing spaces are administrative offices and workspaces for the nonprofit’s team of directors, advocates, and, last but not least, volunteers.

Because a Rose City nonprofit just wouldn’t be complete without a prominent floral motif, the design team created an 82-foot botanic mural that flanks the shelter’s main service areas and incorporates 35 colors that, per Gensler, “evoke a sense of calm and wellbeing.” Using a paint-by-numbers approach, Rose Haven’s guests, volunteers, and donors were invited to fill in the large blossoming artwork.

Rose Haven is the only day shelter and community center for women and children in Portland. (Photographer: Stephen A. Miller/Courtesy Gensler Portland)
Comfortable, unfussy furnishings create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. (Photographer: Stephen A. Miller/Courtesy Gensler Portland)

While input from the community that a particular project sets out to serve is an invaluable part of any design process, the engagement phase at Rose Haven was particularly salient with the needs of the facility’s core users—its guests, volunteers, and staff—taking front and center.

“This project was our first experience in creating a space that allowed for our guests and staff to provide input into color, flow, lighting and all the aspects important to supporting their physical and emotional safety,” said Katie O’Brien, executive director of Rose Haven, in a statement. “We are witnessing firsthand how all these factors have made for a calmer, yet uplifting, environment that promotes dignity. Trauma informed design works.”

Guests, volunteers, and others were invited to contribute by painting the space’s large mural. (Photographer: Stephen A. Miller/Courtesy Gensler Portland)
Among the day shelter’s many features is a wellness area with showers. (Photographer: Stephen A. Miller/Courtesy Gensler Portland)

Kicking off the engagement process, the design team facilitated visioning sessions for the Rose Haven team to in order to “provide the framework they could leverage to conduct a visioning session with the women and children they serve,” Gensler Portland detailed. “This focused on decision-making, providing an inclusive experience to ensure all voices were heard, engaging with diverse viewpoints, and community outreach.”

“The opportunity to work closely with Rose Haven’s community and learn about trauma-informed design in real time was an invaluable experience for our team,” added Natasha Field-Rahman, design manager at Gensler Portland.

The new Rose Haven space first opened to guests in early March and was made possible by a $3 million fundraising campaign.

We are so grateful to be able to boast a truly trauma informed design, which we could not have cultivated without Gensler. Thank you, Architect’s Newspaper & Matt Hickman, for the beautiful story.

Rose Haven Documentary created and filmed by University of Oregon’s Journalism Students!

In early 2022 after our grand opening in our new facility, Rose Haven was connected with University of Oregon journalism students who requested to film a documentary in our space! These students spent a morning at Rose Haven to capture what a day of services looks like and interview past and current guests. One of our previous guests, Keeva Moselle, can be seen in this short documentary sharing her story and expressing what Rose Haven means to her. You can also catch glimpses of her spreading joy in our new space with sparkles and her sweet puppy, Chanel!

This documentary, which you can view below and on Vimeo here, was screened for the UofO community on August 18th.

Thank you so much to the film students at University of Oregon, Wes Pope, and Zach Putnam for celebrating Rose Haven. 

Last week, we wrote a blog post on how you can support Rose Haven by attending the much anticipated Portland Fashion Week (check out that post here). Starting this Wednesday, August 17th, Fashion Week is in full swing!

You can read about this week and Thursday’s Sustainability theme (featuring Rose Haven guest altered original garments) in the Portland Tribune’s article below, written by Jason Vondersmith: “Work it, people: Portland Fashion Week prances and poses”. Read the full article on Pamplin Media here.

A Long Way from the Major Fashion Cities

A long distance from the runways of Milan, London, Paris and New York is the little ol’ Portland Fashion Week.

It might be small, but they do things in big ways, as in striving to be carbon-free and plastics-free, not working with designers who use animal products and generally being sustainable.

Marking 20 years since its inception, Portland Fashion Week, which includes nightly 8 p.m. runway shows and the hair and makeup process conducted for the public to see, takes place at Moxy Hotel, 585 S.W. 10th Ave., Aug. 16-21.

Portland Fashion Week is run by the father-daughter duo of Tod Hunter Foulk, the executive producer, and Fiona Foulk, the executive director.

Designers from near and far will show off their creations, about 15 in all, including:

• Sheltersuit, which designs and sustainably manufactures — in The Netherlands and South Africa — products especially for people experiencing homelessness. Sheltersuit Label works together with high-end fashion brands, making streetwear with re/upcycling materials. The sheltersuit and shelterbag will be shown in Portland; they’ll distribute shelterbags in the winter with help from Rose Haven Day Shelter and Community Center.

COURTESY PHOTO: CHERIE BIRKNER/WILDLING – Wildling Shoes, one of many designers to show at Portland Fashion Week, make shoes from sustainable, leftover and recycled products.

• Wildling Shoes, from Germany and manufacturing in Portugal, makes sustainably produced minimal shoes with organic cotton, hemp, Tencel, wool, linen and washi paper, all in combination with soles made of cork and recycled rubber. It uses recycled and leftover materials extensively, including with its newest “vegan” shoe.

• And Go Eyewear Group will be another big company at Portland Fashion Week. Originally from Brazil, it now distributes worldwide. “It’s not a real sustainable (effort), but it’s neat,” Tod Hunter Foulk said.

Portland Fashion Week persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic, holding events in 2020 and 2021. It has been held at various indoor and outdoor locations in the past 20 years. It’s one of two notable fashion shows in Portland, the other being FashioNXT in the fall.

Tod Hunter Foulk, a native Portlander with roots in Eastern Oregon whose distinctive look includes a cowboy hat, became involved with Portland Fashion Week because of his daughter, who had the passion to be in fashion. “She calls the money shots, I just get things done,” he said.

“Designers are the stars, not the producers.”

He does talk about working on conservation efforts, while applying sustainability to fashion. “We called it eco-fashion” back in the early 2000s, Tod Hunter Foulk said. Time magazine and Huffington Post are among the outlets to credit Portland Fashion Week for its independent status and sustainability work, and influence on other fashion weeks.

We hope to see you this Thursday at the Moxy supporting Rose Haven! Buy your tickets here and use the code ROSEHAVEN for your 10% discount – 50% of proceeds go to Rose Haven.