Rose Haven Finds a New Home

Rose Haven finds a new home -NW Portland day shelter for women, gender-diverse people moving and growing

by John McDonald at Street Roots | 2 Feb 2022
On a damp and dark wintry night, the garbage bins alongside the First Immanuel Lutheran Church had once again been rooted through. Debris was scattered all over the sidewalk.

It’s a routine occurrence in this Northwest Portland neighborhood. Help arrives around dawn as volunteers begin picking up the trash and preparing the site for day shelter operations.

Liz Starke has done this duty before and recalls a heartbreaking conversation she had with a shelter guest as she cleared the sidewalk of trash.

“You don’t have to do this,” the woman said. “I’ll do it. I live here.”

As a new day begins at the church property, its main tenant goes to work. That tenant is Rose Haven, a day shelter and community center serving women, children and gender-diverse people.

The shelter, founded in 1997 as a program of Catholic Charities, is moving to a new home soon. More space is sorely needed as demand for services has increased. For some time now, Rose Haven has outgrown the 3,500 square feet offered by the old Swedish church basement at 1816 NW Irving St.

A permanent, larger home for the shelter was found less than two blocks away at 1740 NW Glisan St. The new site provides 9,700 square feet of operation space and 2,000 square feet of basement storage. Rose Haven is in the midst of a $3 million fundraising campaign to fund the move and expansion.

The opening is scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8.

“If we are waiting on the Joint Office of Homeless Services to do something then we as a society have already failed,” Theriault said.
Starke is Rose Haven’s development director and she brings a keen understanding to this role. Starke comes from a background that is relatable to Rose Haven’s guests. She lost her home during her freshman year of high school when her father was sent to prison.

“My passion for this work is rooted in intersectional feminism,” Starke said. “In a capitalist society, the marginalizing impact of all the different ‘isms’ we are fighting in the social justice world ultimately result in poverty. For me, working at Rose Haven places me at that intersection where I can have the most impact and help people marginalized by their gender when they need it most. To truly be a feminist, we have to empower those who are in the most need.”

Referring to those who come to Rose Haven for help as “guests” is the first step, Starke said, in reclaiming their dignity. Most of the women who seek shelter have experienced some level of trauma and abuse. Domestic violence, Starke noted, is the primary factor forcing women to the streets. Rose Haven, funded entirely by private donations, fills gaps the government can’t and its services are crucial in a city overwhelmed by unhoused people.

The COVID-19 virus exacerbates an already dire situation. Many Rose Haven guests have endured almost two years of COVID restrictions and extreme weather events.

Denis Theriault is the communications coordinator for Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services. Before the pandemic, the office reported close to 4,000 unhoused people with 1,478 identifying as women, nonbinary or transgender. Theriault said that number is likely to rise when the “Point in Time” street count, which began Jan. 26, is completed.

“It’s been a rough past two years with COVID,” Theriault said. “Everyone knows there is a homeless crisis. Only now, it is much more visible.”

Day shelters like Rose Haven help mitigate the crisis, Theriault said, and buy-in from the local community is vital.

“If we are waiting on the Joint Office of Homeless Services to do something then we as a society have already failed,” Theriault said.

The amount of tents and campers on sidewalks and along highways has grown in Portland and across the country. Outside of Rose Haven, police routinely respond to reports of people yelling throughout the night and early morning hours.

“People are literally relying on Rose Haven to survive and get any respite from the elements,” Starke said. “I think most people know the shelters are all at capacity with wait lists … but a lot of people don’t realize what that means for people. When the night shelters are full, people come to Rose Haven for camp gear and because we don’t have overnight beds, we don’t have a limit on how many people we can serve daily, so we truly are bridging the gaps in service (as) the only resource many can access at all.”

In 2021, Rose Haven operated on a $1.3 million budget with a small staff of 13 and close to 900 volunteers annually. During the day, guests wait outside — adhering to COVID guidelines — oftentimes in cold and rainy conditions. Once inside, guests can see a nurse, social worker, browse for new clothes, get food, a shower and emergency supplies.

More space was needed to address increasing demands for services than could be accommodated by the small Northwest Irving Street location.

“Just imagine having to explain sensitive personal information with only a small room divider separating you from the next person,” Starke said.

That’s one of the reasons Rose Haven is on the move. The organization is scheduled to shift operations to a much larger warehouse space 1.5 blocks away on the corner of Northwest 18th Avenue and Glisan Street. The new location, currently under construction, will increase capacity to 11,700 square feet. More importantly, it will ensure privacy for the shelter’s guests.

“We want to welcome our guests back indoors after nearly two years of literally being locked outside with little to no access to public indoor spaces,” Starke said. “The fact that it is being built for them, with a trauma-informed design, will make this transition easier.”

There are examples of guests turning their life around with the shelter’s help. Starke shared the story of Dorothy, a Rose Haven guest for the last three years, who benefitted from the shelter in many ways.

Dorothy was able to get a birth certificate and I.D., financial assistance, bicycle, haircuts, hygiene kits, meals, showers and mail service through Rose Haven, Starke said.

“We are so overjoyed to say that now Dorothy has housing and is in her own apartment,” Starke said. “Not only this, she is now a registered student at Portland Community College with the pursuit of getting her women’s studies degree, to support other women in our community.”

Dorothy stays in contact with Rose Haven through email and phone calls and still drops by to participate in her favorite activity — Soul Collage, an art project allowing guests to ground themselves in a creative way.

“I love the ladies at Rose Haven for doing an amazing job in making sure that our needs are being met,” Dorothy wrote in a letter to Rose Haven staff. “I am so extremely busy with doctor’s appointments, school, work and anything else in between which would be the grocery shopping. I am so shocked and stunned that I have come so far in my life, and that I have been so blessed to be a huge part of it. I am sending good vibes your way.

“I just think that there are miracles out there and if people change just a little bit and realize that there is a better life out there, somewhere in the universe. Just wanted to let you know there are good vibes coming in your direction.”

For Rose Haven, those good vibes will be celebrated during the March 8 grand opening of the new facility.

Progress is being made at the old site, too. As the “Point in Time” count ramps up, calls for federal aid have increased. Theriault said local housing authorities need to deploy emergency vouchers, authorized by Congress last May, to vulnerable people.

“We still have to get it through everyone’s head that housing is a right,” Theraiult said.

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