Working Together Toward Housing for All
“Homelessness is a very complex, very large challenge that no single community will ever be able to solve on its own. It’s going to take all of us working together.”
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, Portland Homeless Family Solutions
Shelly Stevenson never imagined that one medical crisis would thrust her family to the brink of homelessness.
The single mother of four had a good job, health insurance and savings, and had lived for seven years in the same comfortable three–bedroom apartment. She hadn’t missed work in 10 years.
After a medical screening last year, everything changed. “I got diagnosed with heart disease and went into cardiac arrest three weeks later. I had stents put in my heart. And I needed infusions that cost my entire savings,” Shelly recalls. “In less than six months, I exhausted my family, my 401K—I
pulled from everywhere.”
Shelly needed $2,000 to pay rent and a utility bill, or she would face the prospect of moving her family into a shelter or her car.
Several agencies and charities told Shelly they couldn’t help—she wasn’t yet homeless, and she earned too much money. A web search led her to Portland Homeless Family Solutions, where she got rent assistance that kept her family in their home.
Shelly’s story illustrates trends affecting people all over Oregon, from small rural communities to cities and suburbs. Rising rates of housing insecurity and homelessness led OCF to step up efforts to understand the underlying issues and engage our donors and partners to take action.
Portland Homeless Family Solutions
Portland Homeless Family Solutions provides families with shelter and services like rapid rehousing and parenting education, as well as helping families like Shelly’s stay in their homes and never experience homelessness in the first place.
Their new $5.5M Family Village—funded through broad–based community support, including 800 individual donors and several OCF funds—houses 25 families (up to 100 parents and children) with a groundbreaking approach called trauma–informed design.
“When people are experiencing something as stressful as homelessness, their brains are in a constant state of stress response, releasing stress chemicals that turn off people’s ability to regulate their emotions and think critically,” says Executive Director Brandi Tuck. “What we’re trying to do with Family Village is called trauma– informed design and architecture, which research shows changes the chemical response in the brain and leads to people feeling in control of their lives and hopeful for the future.” Trauma–informed design features include natural light, soothing colors, rounded forms and natural materials to create a healing, supportive environment.
Working Together Toward Housing for All
In 2019, OCF commissioned statewide research by ECONorthwest. The resulting report, Homelessness in Oregon, revealed two converging crises. The first is a very visible chronically homeless population in need of intensive social services and support. The second is a larger but less visible crisis: An insufficient housing supply and rising rents are putting 155,000 children and adults at risk of homelessness.
Over the past year, OCF has broadly shared this research with donors and community leaders to help inform community–based work, policymaking, philanthropy and our own strategy to increase housing stability.
Donor funds support a broad range of services to address this complex issue, from emergency support such as meals and hygiene all the way to affordable homeownership. Our donors have contributed $43M in grants since 2014 and $10.9M in 2019 alone—to provide affordable housing and services centered on homelessness.
Related OCF work includes over $7M in loans for affordable housing since 2014 and the establishment of the Ending Homelessness in Oregon pooled fund in 2019 to improve housing stability.
Oregon’s growing crises of housing instability and homelessness put our most vulnerable residents at risk. These complex challenges require a full understanding of the issues, collaborative approaches, and sustained delivery of a continuum of supports ranging from emergency services and shelter beds to workforce training and affordable housing. Working together, we’re building solutions.