Portland gets money to aid homeless people

From the Oregonian, January 20, 1995

A little more than a year ago, Portland adopted an ambitious new way to help the homeless.

Instead of “warehousing” people in a few mass shelters, it would help them face their problems by using several smaller ones, then moving them into transitional housing.

The city launched the plan with high hopes, then promptly watched it founder for lack of money.

Today, thanks to several recently won federal grants, the program is back on track.

“The shelter reconfiguration plan took a year to do and has been in place a year,” said Bob Durston, a contracts manager for the Bureau of Housing and Community Development. “But it was kind of getting bogged down. We had one shelter, the Royal Palm , but other than that we didn’t have many resources besides a small amount of block grant.

“This gives us a sense of hope that all the planning and all the efforts we’re putting into designing the system might actually come to fruition. I don’t think you can underestimate the impact of that.”

The city has won six McKinney Awards grants totaling $3.8 million. The federal grants, awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, are set aside to address housing for homeless people.

Portland’s awards, the most the city has ever received, will provide enough to fund a proposed women’s shelter and several other transitional housing projects.

Those projects include a facility on Division Street for families with children, funding for the Bradley-Angle House domestic violence shelter and rent assistance for 45 alcohol- and drug-free units at Everett and Estate transitional housing projects.

“It’s a big deal,” said Erik Sten, an aide to City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury. “It should have a major impact on what we’re doing in town.”

The amount of money came as a welcome surprise to a city that has not fared well with the grants in the past.

“I was blown away,” Sten said. “I think we’ve gotten one over the last three years. To get six grants in one round is unbelievable.”

Durston credits a push by Kafoury’s office, Portland’s track record in creating innovative programs for the homeless, and increased funding by the Clinton administration.

Part of the money will go to an Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon project for women with alcohol- and drug-dependency problems. The transitional housing project, Sunrise Place, is one of Portland’s only shelters for women who need treatment, but have children, Sten said.

The money means Portland can also begin looking at the final piece of the Shelter Reconfiguration Plan — creating 90 more units of emergency and transitional housing, Durston said.

“It’s still a very daunting challenge,” he said. “But now it’s much more likely, much more do-able.”

The money will also help the city deal with a class of homeless people that have sometimes been neglected: families with children.

“We’ve done so little for that population,” said Marge Ille, a planner with the Housing Authority of Portland. “It’s a real weakness in our program. This will allow us to begin a basic system for families.”

Portland is still in the running for an additional $10 million HUD grant to combat homelessness, Sten said.

In the first round of the $100 million program, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C., received the grants. Cincinnati and Philadelphia received money in a second round.

Portland hopes it’s next. Meanwhile, the city’s homeless advocates are riding the crest of their unexpected windfall.

“It’s a block of resources that gives us hope,” Durston said. “It energizes people to keep pushing for solutions to homelessness.”