Winter homeless shelter opens amid record demand in Multnomah County
By Dana Tims, The Oregonian
November 02, 2012
Christina Storing, her four-year-old son, Sam, in tow, began to panic Thursday evening when a friend called and rescinded the offer of a room in his apartment.
A second call followed, this time from another acquaintance who told Storing that the Family Winter Shelter, a seasonal facility with no wait list several miles east at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, was opening for the season at 7 p.m.
“We’ve been homeless before,” she said, “but I’m just not ready for another night on the streets.”
A few bus connections later, Storing, 35, watched quietly as Sam, flanked by a handful of other homeless families finding shelter from the cold, scarfed down the spaghetti dinner prepared by congregation members.
Statistics show she is far from alone right now when it comes to seeking shelter.
The two year-round homeless shelters in Multnomah County have a combined waiting list of nearly 60 families, said Brandi Tuck, executive director of Portland Homeless Family Solutions. That’s up dramatically from a high of 15 families not long ago.
The list would be even greater, Tuck said, if not for two newly hired housing specialists contacting homeless families and getting them directly into rent-subsidized apartments.
The specialists, hired using money allocated by Multnomah County’s commissioners on a one-time basis, have moved 11 needy families straight from homelessness to apartments in the past week alone, she said.
“Still,” Tuck added, “it’s a pretty dire situation.”
The county stands largely alone in the metropolitan area when it comes to providing overnight shelter for homeless families, except for sites that house domestic violence victims and a few churches.
Churches in Sherwood and Tualatin provide meals and beds through the winter, but only on a once-a-week basis. Another six churches across Washington County open their doors only during severe weather for nighttime stays.
Similarly, Clackamas County relies primarily on a coalition of churches and nonprofits to provide warming shelters on an emergency basis.
The Family Winter Shelter that opened Thursday is coordinated by Human Solutions, a nonprofit that focuses on the needs of families in east Portland.
Some of the first in line, however, indicated that their search for shelter and warmth regularly takes them far beyond those boundaries.
Brandy Vaughn, for instance, said she left her parents’ home in Hillsboro to avoid constant fighting and scenes she didn’t want exposed to her two-year-old son.
“I’ve just been moving place to place, trying to get a start,” said Vaughn, 22, who dropped out of Roosevelt High School before spending some time in a job-training program. “I’ve called every shelter in the area for the past four weeks, sometimes three times a day, and every time they tell me there is nothing available.”
Her initial understanding was that the Family Winter Shelter was a place she could stay three or four weeks while trying to find her dream job making $20 an hour for some local business.
What she didn’t realize until she got to the door that she and Damien would have to be back out on the streets by 7 a.m. because of the lack of resources for further staffing.
“I believe in God,” Vaughn said. “So I’m at least happy we are in a church.”
Jean DeMaster, Human Solutions’ executive director, noted the hardship of hitting the streets that early, kids tailing behind, and having to walk 16 blocks to a day shelter, take a cross-town bus to a similar facility near downtown Portland, or hole up in a public library or some other building until the night shelter doors re-open.
“You wouldn’t stand in line here at 7 p.m. at night if you had anywhere else to go,” she said.
DeMaster also pointed out, however, that shelter staff members are pulling 13-hour shifts to make the 80-bed facility a reality for those in need.
As word gets out that the shelter has opened, she expects increasing numbers of families to make their way there.
“The county has committed to arranging for over-flow capacity,” DeMaster said. “Our goal is not to have to turn anyone away.”
Storing, suddenly confronted by dual duties as a newly single parent and fulltime student at Portland Community College, said she is just grateful to be off the street.
“I can’t tell you what a big thing it is for us to be here,” Storing said. “It’s huge.”
-- Dana Tims
Family Winter Shelter
Where: 12505 NE Halsey St., Portland
Open: 7 p.m.-7 a.m. daily through March of April
Needed donations: Warm winter clothing, food for evening meals and breakfasts, bus tickets, volunteers to help with children's activities and prepare hot meals.
Information: 503-256-2280; Human Solutions