Multnomah County and community partners work to get homeless families and children off streets

Friday, 11/2/12 - 1:30 pm

Niyelli Wright was just 4 days old when her mom, big brother and sister entered a Portland shelter for people who are homeless.

For six weeks, Tiffany Wright, 25, managed her growing family with the overwhelming need to find a home. On Nov. 1, through the help of Multnomah County and its partners, the Wrights finally moved into an apartment.

“I cannot stop smiling,’’ Wright said as she cradled her little daughter. “We all slept so well last night. Now I can begin thinking about the future and a job.’’

Wright’s journey, from an emergency shelter to a home of her own, is the path Multnomah County staff hopes will bring hundreds of families to self-sufficiency.

On Thursday, more than 70 families who have been waiting for emergency shelter started on that path when Human Solutions opened the Family Winter Shelter in Portland. The 80-bed shelter is housed in the Parkrose Church of Christ, 12505 N.E. Halsey St.

The goal is to give homeless families a safe place to be at night, but also to leave the shelter altogether as quickly as possible by entering a housing program for homeless families. In 2011-2012, the Family Winter Shelter served a record 181homeless families consisting of 555 people, including 288 children.

“As a mom of three, I have a visceral reaction when I see children in strollers, lugging backpacks, or helping a sister or brother stay warm as they wait in line for the doors to open at 7p.m.,’’ County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said.

“Multnomah County prioritizes this funding because we believe every child deserves a safe and warm place to sleep," Kafoury said.

Human Solutions opened the Family Winter Shelter with cots and donated linens hotels. But the families still need food, bus tickets and new or gently used pillows and blankets that families can take with them when the leave.

“The families that will come here have lost their homes, all their belongings are gone and what they’re asking for is a new start,’’ said Jean DeMaster, executive director of Human Solutions.

City Commissioner Nick Fish said more than 4,500 local people have nowhere to live, one-third of them families with children. Fish donated a blanket from his 8-year-old son.

Kafoury urged people to join with a group of neighbors, workmates or book clubs to provide at least one meal over the coming months as she and her staff have done the last two years.

“Think about what you would serve your family and bring it in. I personally like roasted vegetables and brought in roasted Brussels sprouts and roasted sweet potatoes – they were a huge hit. I’ve also found that healthy options are often the most popular. Fresh fruit  – especially fruit salad – is the most popular item that we’ve brought.”

Kafoury also urged anyone needing help to call 211.

Pastor Wil Hardy, senior pastor of the Highland Christian Center, said his church is working on becoming the next shelter in the network. He said when he came home to Portland from serving in the U.S. Navy in 1980, “there weren’t homeless people like you see now.”

He called upon the community to stop looking to the president and political leaders for change. “That’s up to us, to put our hands to the wheel. We have extra staples in shelf and clothes that no longer fit, what we’ve got we can share with those who need it most.”

“This isn’t a black issue or a white issue, it’s a human issue. Please join us," Hardy said.

How to help

  • The Family Winter Shelter is open from Nov. 1 until at least March 30, 2013 from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Please donate new or clean gently used blankets and pillows, packaged food, bus tickets, disposable plates, cups, bowls and utensils and hygiene products including toothpaste, toothbrushes and diapers.
  • To donate or volunteer, visit Human Solutions' website, or contact Amie Diffenauer at 503-841-1728 or