‘Record numbers’ seek winter warmth in outer East Portland homeless shelter

Take a look, and learn why you might consider giving Human Solutions a helping hand, as they work to keep folks out of the cold weather …

Human Solutions Executive Director Jean DeMaster looks into one of the Sunday School rooms that’s been turned into homeless family lodging.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It was a sunny-but-cold afternoon on February 5, the day before the “Great Blizzard of 2014” swept into the outer East Portland area.

Jean DeMaster, Director of Human Solutions, arrived at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ on NE Halsey Street, in the Russell neighborhood, to check in with staff at their Family Winter Shelter, located at the church.

“This shelter was set up to serve about 80 people a night,” DeMaster told East Portland News. “Every night, from opening night in November until today, we’ve had record numbers of homeless come here to our door. We’ve had from 90 up to as many as 130 people coming here. We can’t have them all stay here, so we’ve opened an ‘overflow shelter’ in the area, in addition to this shelter. We’re actually running two shelters every night.”

Struggling to staff two shelters with two people each has made their “costs skyrocket”, DeMaster said. “But, thanks to a generous grant from The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, both shelters are fully staffed. Having two staff members on duty every night helps make sure the families are safe, and also helps us better make use of the volunteers.”

Clients are allowed to leave their personal belongings in the shelter during the daytime, where these possessions are kept dry and safe by the shelter’s staff.

What makes the Family Winter Shelter different that others, DeMaster explained, is that families can stay together – and also can leave their personal belongings under their cots during the daytime.

“Families can stay here for as long as they need to do so,” DeMaster said. “But, our goal is to get families to leave in about 30 days, and get into housing. This isn’t easy when the apartment vacancy rates are fewer than 2% of units.”

After breakfast, their clients are required to leave the shelter. “They are invited to our ‘Daybreak Center’, where they can take showers, use washers and dryers, and have access to computers resources there. A ‘family advocate’ helps them find housing; our Housing First program, will help them pay the rent for a number of months.”

Human Solutions’ Emergency Solutions Manager Adam Lyons checks staff scheduling for the two homeless shelters.

Beyond their simply having a warm place to stay, she reminded that the clients are offered a warm dinner meal, as well as a breakfast. [See our story about the host church’s group that provides meals: CLICK HERE.] “We also provide donated clothing for people, especially when it’s cold, to make sure that they have warm jackets, hats, and gloves.”

DeMaster said that the organization is “more grateful than can be put into words” for the generosity of the Parkrose Community United Church of Christ members who own the building. “24 hours a day, they allow us to use their Sunday School rooms, in addition to their Board Room and social hall at night. This is a big sacrifice that the church has made to allow homeless people to stay here.  We were very lucky to find a church that would let us use space like this.”

Neighbor Jane Winfield donates blankets to the Family Winter Shelter. “I’m warm and I feel like I’m very fortunate to have what I need. I can certainly afford to share a little bit,” she says.

You can help
This shelter is in need of good, clean winter clothing. Also, groups are needed to bring in food and cook suppers for the homeless. More easily, contribute to their efforts online. And, consider attending their auction and gala, “Tonight’s the Night”, scheduled for April 25.

To find out more, see the Human Solutions website: CLICK HERE to open their home page.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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