Tag Archive for: homelessness

Amplifying Survivor Voices: Stories on the Intersection of Poverty and Domestic Violence

Amplifying Survivor Voices: Stories on the Intersection of Poverty and Domestic Violence

Women experiencing poverty and domestic violence have long been made to feel invisible. They are constantly judged, treated differently and isolated from the rest of society. This project works to lift up the voices of these women—to finally give them a platform to share their stories. Through reading and learning from these narratives, I hope you will be inspired to take action in any and every way you can. Volunteer. Donate. Use your voice and privilege to advocate for change. Accept these folks as your neighbors, not as a problem, because you never know what someone may be going through. 


My name is Cate Bikales and I am a college sophomore at Northwestern University, where I am studying journalism and political science. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I have seen firsthand how the city’s shortage of affordable housing has contributed to homelessness. I have also seen how the city has struggled to listen to the voices of those who are experiencing that homelessness. Decisions like the recent daytime camping ban, which went into effect on July 1, leave those experiencing homelessness with no place to go, especially when most shelters in the area are already at capacity. 

I am passionate about giving voice to the people who are being directly affected by these decisions—people who have long been overlooked and underserved by society. 

This is why I began volunteering with Rose Haven Day Shelter and Community Center in my first year of high school. Rose Haven is Portland’s only day shelter and community center that serves women, children, and gender-diverse people who have been most marginalized by homelessness and other intersecting traumas. Rose Haven serves an average of 150 guests per day, providing them with a safe, trauma-informed space and access to meals, fresh sets of clothes, financial help, laundry machines, showers, an onsite clinic and more. 

After completing a year of college, I have realized I am interested in going into the field of law, with a focus on women’s rights. So, I rejoined the Rose Haven team this summer as an intern with a specific goal in mind: to speak to guests about their thoughts on and experiences regarding the intersection between poverty and domestic violence. Thus, this project was born. Through my writing, I hope to amplify the voices of those directly affected by poor policies, and inspire our community leaders to take action by prioritizing those who have been systematically marginalized.

“Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness in the U.S. for women”

Methodology and Outline

This project is based on guest testimonials conducted at Rose Haven in July of 2023. Guests were informed about the project I was conducting and chose to participate. Over the course of two, three hour days, I spoke with eight women about their experiences with domestic violence and poverty. Guests shared their stories, as well as ideas for how policymakers can decrease rates of poverty and domestic violence in Portland. Interviews were conducted in person and recorded, with permission, in order to be referenced when putting this project together. 

Seven of the eight women I spoke with have asked for anonymity due to the nature of their stories; however, one guest, Heidi Zieser, is eager for people to hear her story and her plans going forward. 

Thus, I will begin by telling Heidi’s story in full, before going into a summary of the thoughts and opinions of the seven other guests I had the privilege of speaking with. I will end my project with a summary of my thoughts, and a call to action. 

Please note that domestic violence and poverty can impact all genders. Due to the nature of my interviews, I will be focusing on the impacts of domestic violence and poverty on women specifically. 

“I go day by day, and I try to make each day the best day I can make it because I’m still walking this earth. I’m spreading my happiness.”

Facts and Figures

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior used by people to control and maintain power over their intimate partners. It comes in many forms, either physical or psychological. Both can have lasting impacts.

According to a study conducted by Multnomah County in 2019, 1 of every 7 women aged 18-64 was physically abused by an intimate partner. This means that almost 28,000 women in Multnomah County (13.9%) were physically abused by their partners during the past year. Numbers likely rose during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many are unaware that domestic violence and poverty are directly correlated. Experiencing both at the same time can exacerbate the impact of the abuse and cause an exceptional loss of resources for the survivor. Additionally, when women experiencing domestic violence flee their homes, they are often left with no place to go.  Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness in the U.S. for women.

It is important to note the racial disparities. National poverty rates by race were highest for American Indians and Alaska Natives (27.0 percent), followed closely by Blacks or African Americans (25.8 percent). A 2022 study by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research showed that Black women experience higher rates of domestic violence than any other race. It is unsurprising, then, that Black and Indigenous Americans are far more likely to experience homelessness than other groups.

Guest Testimonial: Heidi Zieser


“I go day by day, and I try to make each day the best day I can make it because I’m still walking this earth. I’m spreading my happiness.”

Despite enduring almost eight years of ongoing domestic violence from her abuser, 43-year-old Heidi Zieser maintains a positive, kind-hearted attitude toward life.  

Zieser moved to Portland from Dubuque, Iowa in April of 2017 with hopes of starting a new, better life—of “seeing the world.” But this dream was quickly shattered. Zieser stayed one night at Willamette Center Shelter but immediately felt uncomfortable and out of place. She and her boyfriend at the time eventually found a room to stay in at the Westwind Apartments in Portland’s Old Town. The abuse started soon after.  

Zieser immediately moved to a makeshift, self-built home in Tigard to get away, but the abuse followed.

“This gentleman just wouldn’t leave me alone,” Zieser said.

Zieser said the police department did little to help her. Her abuser was brought in with 40 charges against him, but was only sentenced for two. Instead of spending the five years in prison that he would have spent if charged for all 40, he only spent nine months. 

“I was so mad and angry about it—with him just getting away with everything,” Zieser said. “That’s the justice system. It looks down upon domestic violence and abuse victims.” 

In December of 2021, while still in prison, Zieser’s abuser got someone to burn her Tigard home down. In February of the following year, right after getting out of prison, her abuser burned down the second self-built home she was living in on 15th and Burnside, almost killing her and her dog.

Rose Haven was one of the few places that was able to help Zieser during this time, providing her with resources, food, clothes and a safe space to escape the abuse. However, Zieser said that this kind of support can only really help with the emotional scars, not the physical ones.

“Everything is so much harder,” she said. “My teeth and my body look so bad because my abuser has beaten me up so bad. I have burn marks all over me. He knocked my teeth out. People just judge really quickly.”

It was not only people walking by on the street who were quick to look down on Zieser. Five months ago, Zieser found out she was pregnant. She said the hospital neither told her she was pregnant, nor adjusted her medications to ensure the safety of the baby.   

“Folks that are living outside just don’t get treated the same way,” Zieser said. “It’s so hard.”

Zieser is currently living in Wisconsin, where she moved to once again get away from her abuser. Moving away has not made Zieser’s life any easier.

It was there that her neighbors tried to destroy her camper. It was there that she found out she had had a miscarriage. She had planned to name the baby Heavenly Rose, after Rose Haven.

Now, Zieser plans to return home to Portland. She has big plans for when she returns. 

“I want to make a GoFundMe and try to raise the money to get some innovations around Portland,” she said. “Enough money where I can go down and buy a big piece of property and put laundry [machines], showers, bathrooms, mental health support. A place where people can go and be safe and camp without getting messed around with by police officers.”

She plans to name the space Heavenly Rose PDX Foundation, in honor of her lost baby.

“This foundation will mean so much to me,” she said. “My unhoused friends and my unhoused community and family will finally have a safe place with access to a whole bunch of services.”

This is not the first time Zieser has worked to help her community. In August of 2022, Zieser helped arrange a street cleanup through We Heart Portland, a nonprofit that “organizes trash cleanups in our public spaces and offers resources to those in need,” according to their website. 

Through this organization, Zieser has also helped get homeless people off of the streets.

Zieser has faced massive hardship, but she said all she really wants is to help others, and to encourage people to listen to her story, and other stories like hers, before passing judgment.

“We are judged and treated differently from everybody else in the community,” she said. “But for a lot of us, it’s not our fault that we’re out there: domestic violence, evictions, criminal records, etc. People need to stop and realize that they can’t judge somebody before they know the real story.”

Additional Testimonials

blankHeidi Zieser is one of over 4000 guests who utilize Rose Haven’s services every year. Other guests shared their ideas with me about ways Portland can help both the homeless population, and the large number of people facing domestic violence. Many also shared with me why they believe it is so important for people to hear their stories.


Some guests offered solutions more directed towards domestic violence, while others discussed ways to fix Portland’s homelessness crisis.

Guest Testimonial #2


“Being able to come here is so helpful,” she said. “It’s nice just having the ability to come in and eat somewhere without having to watch your back—a safe space.”

One guest I spoke to told me about the 11 years of abuse she experienced. She said she tried to report the violence to the police, but they never listened.

“Even though there was evidence—it looked like there was a softball sticking out of my head from him hitting me—they didn’t do anything,” she said. “It’s just one of those things in life. His family had money and I didn’t have money, so they didn’t take me seriously.”

She said this intersection between poverty and domestic violence is far too common. She said the justice system should start taking domestic violence victims more seriously.

“Our lives should matter just as much as a man’s life matters,” she said.

She also said experiencing domestic violence, such as hitting or harassment, can make things like keeping a job extremely difficult. This makes it difficult to be financially independent. She said that, as someone already experiencing financial instability, that makes life just that much harder.

One solution she suggested was for the city to build and fund more domestic violence shelters where women can access resources, get help and “wind down.” She noted that Rose Haven is one of the few places that have given her that space.

“Being able to come here is so helpful,” she said. “It’s nice just having the ability to come in and eat somewhere without having to watch your back—a safe space.”

Guest Testimonial #3

Another guest talked to me about her experience with PTSD following an abusive first relationship and watching her mother experience 30 years of battering.

She said this trauma is directly related to the poverty she experiences.

“The long term effects of my PTSD have directly inhibited me—I’ve had to leave employment because of triggers,” she said. “I’ve been adversely affected by [my violent relationship] for decades. I’m 55 and it happened to me when I was 28, and I’m still affected by it.”

She said that one way domestic violence shelters and women’s shelters could help domestic violence victims would be to educate their guests about PTSD, and to provide services to help women experiencing it. She said getting an education about PTSD has helped her to adapt to living with it.

She said the biggest way community members can help people experiencing domestic violence is by understanding their misconceptions related to abuse. 

“A lot of [people] view women that stay in relationships as unwilling to get out of it. They don’t understand that usually a batterer makes you think that you need them to survive,” she said. “People need to be educated about that and not be as judgmental towards their peers that are trapped in those situations.”

Guest Testimonial #4


“There’s a lot of people that I know would be able to help but don’t because they think that they need to do something big, but it doesn’t have to be. I appreciate even a smile.”


The next guest I spoke to discussed how her experiences with her abusive girlfriend have led her to where she is now: living with her elementary-age son in a shelter and struggling to keep her job.

She said she believes it is extremely important for people to hear stories like hers.

“Some people may not ever experienced [homelessness or domestic violence], but they’re still able to help,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that I know would be able to help but don’t because they think that they need to do something big, but it doesn’t have to be. I appreciate even a smile.”

She said Portland’s top officials can help to serve domestic violence victims and people experiencing homelessness by asking them directly what they need, not by deciding on solutions on their own.

“It would be helpful [for Portland’s leaders] to create partnerships with places like Rose Haven,” she said. “Then they could ask people like me directly, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Guest Testimonial #5

I spoke to a guest who said she has been “violated” in many ways, including suffering through two abusive relationships and finding out five of her family members had been killed.

She said people should hear her story “so they don’t have to suffer what I suffered.”

She said she has taken the trauma from these experiences and channeled them into doing good for the world. She encourages other survivors to do the same.

“If you are abused and violated by your parents…you do one of three things,” she said. “(i) You become a drug addict, (ii) you become a perpetrator of domestic violence and child abuse yourself, or (iii) you do what I did: you become a human rights activist; you become a humanitarian.”

Guest Testimonial #6

One guest told me that she had to leave Portland because the domestic violence she was facing was so bad. She said that people tend to turn a blind eye to those that need help.

“I had a gun to my head. People were around—they saw me. They didn’t do anything,” she said. 

While she struggled to come up with a solution to the domestic violence issue, she offered a solution to Portland’s homelessness issue.

“The community thinks they’re creating change by putting all this money and everything into creating more committees, more departments, etc,” she said. “But the money is not going to affordable housing, and if it’s not going to housing, it’s not going to be successful.”


Guest Testimonial #7

The next guest I spoke to said she did not get justice when she brought her abuser to court. 

She said she feels it is important for people to hear the opinions of those experiencing domestic violence and homelessness firsthand. She said she hopes it will influence local government officials to make real, positive change.

One suggestion she gave that she hopes Portland City Council will take into consideration is providing a space for people to camp if they are not allowed to camp on the streets during the day. She also suggested offering domestic violence victims more easy access to resources.

“Offering people services is the first step,” she said. “I mean, you can’t force someone to take help, but they might accept it.”

Guest Testimonial #8

The final guest I spoke to cried as she exclaimed her thoughts on the abuse domestic violence victims face: “They’re hopeless. They should be able to get the help they need before it gets to that.”

She said that abuse victims and those experiencing homelessness are at a severe disadvantage to those who have food, water and a safe space to live readily available to them. 

“The city needs to be providing people equal access to what they need—transportation, housing, etc.,” she said. “They need to help people take that step to get where they need to be.”

She also said how important she thinks it is for regular people, not just people holding powerful positions in government, to withhold judgment against those who may not look perfect, or those who are living outside.

“People should keep looking for the good in people, and I think all of us should feel happy if we help someone,” she said. “Even by doing something small. Sometimes the small things get overlooked. You never know what someone is going through.”


I came into this project hoping to hear the stories of those who have experienced domestic violence and/or homelessness. I got that, and so much more.

Each guest I spoke to was so kind and passionate about their ideas, and so interested in telling me their story. When I began conducting interviews, I thought I would be lucky if I was able to get even two people to speak with me. I was able to speak to eight. This was not just luck. These women were eager and willing to share their stories.

They want people to know their stories so that these people can understand what domestic violence victims and unhoused people go through.

They want people to know their stories in hopes that people will withhold judgments before hearing the whole story.

They want people to know their stories so that people can use them to develop solutions that will actually help, not harm, unhoused folks like them.

After hearing these guest’s various struggles, from not being taken seriously by the institutions and systems they put their trust into (i.e., police, hospitals) to simply feeling like they are not being seen or heard, I have come to realize just how important this project really is. 

I want people to read these stories and take what they have learned to heart—to implement it in a positive way.

To those who may pass someone struggling on the street, do not be so quick to judge. Oftentimes, it is not the person’s fault that they are where they are. And remember, small acts of kindness mean a lot. You never know what these people have gone, and continue to, go through.


To Portland’s city leaders, listen to these stories and remember them. Keep them in mind when you are making decisions that might affect these people. Help create more spaces where domestic violence victims and unhoused people feel safe. And provide more funding and resources for spaces like that that already exist. Places like Rose Haven.

Rose Haven helped save Heidi Zieser’s life, and it continues to do so today. Rose Haven is helping the seven other people I spoke to for this project, and so many more. Domestic violence and homelessness are rampant in Portland, but places like Rose Haven mean so much to those going through tough times.

If you would like to make a donation in honor of Heidi and the 4000 guests Rose Haven serves each year, please visit Rose Haven’s donation page.  

I would like to end this project with a few quotes from the guests I spoke to about what Rose Haven means to them. I hope you will be inspired to create more safe spaces in Portland for women like Heidi and the others to feel safe and welcome.


“[Rose Haven] has saved my life—having a safe place where women can meet without threat. A lot of times a woman with PTSD will go to access services but get freaked out just being in the presence of some men, so they’ll deny themselves services to avoid those triggers. So places like this make a huge difference.” 


“Rose Haven means a lot to me. They have done so much for me, especially people like [Development Director] Liz Starke. Liz is one of the best people out there. I love her to death. Rose Haven is a big inspiration to me and just talking to people like Liz makes my day when I’m sad.”


Rose Haven really provides so much for women, even without any external/governmental support [outside of donations].”


“[Rose Haven] has helped me with transportation and some of my bills and things like that. It’s a place where I can just sit and calm down. It’s a much appreciated space, but there needs to be more places like it in Portland.”


Further Reading:

Everyday Northwest Reigning Roses Walk


Local News Channel, Everyday Northwest interviews Development Director Liz Starke to discuss Rose Haven and the 2023 Reigning Roses Walk. Click this link to watch the video!

Stories & Solutions

Journalist Oscar Ponteri writes about community members experiences with homelessness and unaffordable housing. The article features images of Rose Haven guests.

Read the full article below or at FHS Post


Sophie Ross, pictured at Downtown Portland day shelter Rose Haven. As a transgender woman, Ross has worked hard to maintain gender affirming care and dignity while facing housing insecurity. Photo by Oscar Ponteri
David (left) and Josephine (right) together on NW 3rd and Davis. Ever since Josephine was evicted from an assisted living facility, the two have confronted the challenges of homelessness together. Photo by Oscar Ponteri
Kelli McBride at Rose Haven. McBride is currently housed, but found community on the streets. Photo by Oscar Ponteri

Sophie Ross left in her van. “I heard the roommate with his group of neighbors talking about me when I got out of the shower. And the window was open and I could hear them calling me a freak. I was like ‘I just can’t, I just can’t listen to them do that;’ it was intolerable and I decided to go,” she says. Ross, a trans woman, has been looking for stable housing ever since the incident in 2021.

After raising her son, Josephine was evicted from the apartment she had lived in for 20 years. “I didn’t plan on being homeless; I just got caught up in the rise of rent. One day it changed to $1400; I couldn’t afford it, and in 2010, I was homeless and on the streets,” she says. After contracting pneumonia while homeless, Josephine spent months in a hospital and then an assisted living facility before she was displaced again. “They sent me across the street. They sent me to the tent,” she says. That’s where she found David.

Kelli McBride was ‘outside’ for what she would consider six years. “The streets call you because it’s what you know. It’s where, 24 hours a day, there’s somebody, and that is your world,” she says. McBride now lives in stable housing, but has found leaving the camaraderie she found on the streets an incredible challenge. “Housed people don’t live in a community like we did,” she says.


The number of homeless individuals exploded in Oregon during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. After minor fluctuations in the mid-2010s, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County increased 30% from 2019 to 2022 to a total of 5228 people, according to a study by the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “We’re in dire need; the city I grew up in is very different than the city I live in today,” says Stephanie Rogers, a wellness program coordinator at Rose Haven, a Portland day shelter.

Rogers is not alone in her view towards the housing crisis. In a poll conducted in February 2023, 94% of Portlanders called homelessness a “very big problem,” calling on the state, county, and city governments to take quick action. Since then, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has unveiled a controversial plan to create six large city-approved camping sites and allow Portland leaders to prohibit unsanctioned camping on city streets. The plan has been under scrutiny, as Multnomah County and state leaders say they will not allocate money for the mass camps. “That [plan] just seems like we’re shuffling people around,” says Rogers. “If we don’t help them be part of change, starting within themselves, it’s just going to be a continuation.”

As housed residents, local leaders, policy experts, and others air out grievances and debate solutions, one group of key stakeholders have consistently been locked out of the conversation: homeless individuals. Personal stories from those who have experienced Portland’s crisis firsthand reveal a much more horrific and complex issue than popular coverage would suggest.

Sophie Ross experienced homelessness before beginning her gender-affirming care, but not in the same way. “For trans women, it’s quite remarkable, to see different reactions from people and learn more about social dynamics at play that I never knew about before,” she says, adding, “It’s more scary and complex.” According to reports by the University of California Los Angeles’ Williams Institute, 8.3% of transgender adults across all sexual orientations had recent experiences with homelessness, compared to just 1.4% of cisgender straight adults; they are also four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime regardless of housing status.

In addition to safety concerns, navigating identity and various supports has been difficult without housing. “I’ve had to learn to improvise things like where I’m going to maintain gender affirming personal care,” she says. “It’s hard to explore human relationships, especially intimacy … because those feelings do happen, even when you’re homeless.” Portland does offer some culturally appropriate care for queer citizens facing housing insecurity. Downtown day shelter Rose Haven holds weekly LGBTQ+ support meetings and nurse visits while providing showers, clothing, hygiene products, and emotional support. “You can give people homes, you can give people cars, you can give people things, but if they don’t have the mental health capacity to work with the tools they have it’s going to be a continual problem,” says Rose Haven coordinator Stephanie Rogers.

While the challenges have been abundant and constant for Ross, embracing her identity has also helped her persevere. “On a more personal note, I’m a childhood sex abuse survivor, and I’ve lived with suicidal ideation, but when I came out that ideation stopped,” says Ross. “The urgency to have permanent housing is so much greater, because I have a greater sense of value for my life now.”

Ross and her partner originally found community at the Q Center on N Mississippi Avenue, the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Pacific Northwest, according to its website. As part of working and volunteering for the organization, they allowed Ross to sleep in her van in the parking lot. After a breakup with her partner, Ross stayed in various shelters and temporary housing, and transitional motels.

Currently, Ross believes “rapid housing placement” is the most important thing for the government to focus on. “Put people in a room. Give them somewhere to sleep and take a bath and wash up and regain their sense of dignity on their own,” she recommends. Governor Tina Kotek recently established a statewide goal of building 36,000 new homes per year, a 60% increase from prior years. Meanwhile, the state legislature recently passed a $200 million homelessness package targeted to fund transitional and permanent housing. “Given the mighty accumulation of resources that our country wields, it really is like ‘come on,’ we know, we know we can solve this problem by now,” says Ross. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of potential and it sounds like it appears as if there’s the right people in the right places to utilize our potential, so I would like to see Oregon leading the way, building the model for how this goes across the country and possibly around the world,” she added.

“I’m waiting on my ring now,” Josephine says, looking up at David. “I’d rather be by him, with him, married to him than alone; he’s all I have.” The two have been together ever since that night Josephine was sent to the tent, but they haven’t been able to find much stability when it comes to housing. “Shelters, assisted living, hospitals, I’ve done it all…  I’m a long ways away from where I used to be,” says Josephine. She is one of many Oregonians who fell victim to skyrocketing rent prices. According to a Willamette Week story from December 2022, the number of Portland evictions have skyrocketed to over 700 per month, significantly higher than before the pandemic. In 2012, KGW reported that the average Portland rent was $848 per month; now it’s more than $1800 per month, according to data from Zillow. High eviction numbers will likely continue as 2023 rent hikes were capped at 14.6%, which is the highest it’s been since Oregon’s rent control law took effect five years ago. “Anybody could become homeless at this rate … if you don’t be careful your kids will be on the ground with you,” says Josephine.

On the street, the couple describes a perpetual state of suffering; “This homelessness is one of the worst things I’ve witnessed in my life … it’s like living on the edge everyday,” says Josephine. In the first six months of 2022, 207 Oregonians experiencing homelessness died, with 35% of those deaths occurring in Multnomah County. 32 people died from unintended injuries, eight died by suicide, and seven died by homicide. The overwhelming majority of deaths were labeled as “natural causes.” “It hurts my heart, it’s like I’m dying trying to get out,” says Josephine.

She suggests education as a key to avoiding life on the street. “Education is the tool, never get enough of education. Stay plugged in,” she says. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, “Youth with less than a high school diploma or GED have a 346% higher risk of experiencing homelessness than youth with at least a high school degree,” and “the unemployment rate for someone with less than a high school diploma is almost three times that of someone with a bachelor’s degree.” Josephine’s son received a master’s degree and now has a daughter of his own.

Josephine and David have been on waitlists for housing, but have not received much sign of support. As time goes on, hope dwindles; “How do you come out of homelessness? There’s no way out, that’s what I still believe,” Josephine remarks. For now, she dreams of David proposing and a day when she can be “making ends meet, getting bills paid, going to parties and movies, and sending the kids money … that’s living life,” she says.

Kelli McBride had been placed in housing several times, but returned to the street. “That loss of community makes you want to come back and that is the cycle of homelessness,” she says. Finally, after a harsh winter, she made the hard choice to settle down, simply for the sake of survival. “I got to a place [where] I didn’t know if I was going to make it through summer,” she says. She entered the shelter system and was transferred all over town, before entering a transitional motel. “It was a great transitional step to practice having my own space,” McBride remarked. She also completed a course through Rent Well that taught her rights and responsibilities as a renter. Rent Well, a transition program, is a 15-hour tenant education program based in Oregon and Washington that prepares people to be “responsible, successful, and stable tenant[s],” according to its website.

However, even with a good deal of preparation to reenter a permanent living situation, the transition was difficult. “They don’t prepare somebody for it … it creates even more isolation because once you have housing you can’t talk to your friends,” McBride says. She wished those helping her had told her where the library or community was so that she could start building connections before she even arrived. A study published in 2021 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that nearly 50% of homeless people already feel loneliness on the street; however, McBride described feeling more intense isolation when entering housing, something that is often not acknowledged.

“They don’t talk about it … If the homeless were honest and you asked them ‘what keeps you from getting housing,’ the words will come out: ‘I don’t want to be alone,’” says McBride. While there are lots of plans to build more housing, there is little concern about transitioning homeless individuals into new dwellings. Under a draft of Mayor Wheeler’s plan to convince Portland’s homeless population to reside in mass camps or alternative housing, the city could give out criminal citations for public camping resulting in a fine of $100 or 30 days in jail. McBride rebukes the idea, saying, “Putting them in housing before they’re ready is clearly a waste of money.”

Her plan would entail “community reintegration centers” where people who are recently housed and homeless can come together. In her vision, “there’s laundry, a pool table, and you can sit and talk with people that are going through it.” It would be a safe space to talk where people could discuss their common struggles: “The biggest step—and it won’t cost a dime—is you start talking about how hard [the transition] is,” she says.

Unfortunately, McBride rarely feels like people listen to her ideas. “They speak about ‘lived experience’ meaning ‘we’re talking to the people,’ but they don’t. They’re deciding on what’s best for them and how to spend the money, not what’s best for us,” she says.

Despite decisive plans and big dreams, the solution to Oregon’s housing crisis may actually rely on communal, ground-up work. “We are all in positions of power, because I think power comes from within, and power is centered in our heart and soul,” says Rogers. “And I think when we start looking at the world from that perspective, we start caring about ourselves, and then we care about each other,” she adds. As someone whose brother passed away on the streets due to addiction, Rogers, who spends many of her days around those in need, has a uniquely hopeful outlook: “There’s so much about what is wrong, and that’s one of the beautiful things about being part of something as wonderful as Rose Haven; every day people are showing up to help each other … I think the more we focus on what is happening and how people are showing up, I think we would be surprised at the good that’s happening every day.”

ushed to our limits, our organizations need city’s, county’s help

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. You can help us help Portland by sharing this op-ed far and wide on Facebook and Twitter!

Photo Caption: 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.