By Kathy Eaton
with photos by John Butenschoen
“Everyone should have a door that locks, be able to cook a meal on their own stove, have access to a private bathroom and a mailing address,” said Avery Browning, co-manager of the Hansen Shelter. Co-manager Jeff Riddle said that in addition to providing participants safety and security, “providing access to a hot meal nourishes individuals to battle everyday challenges.” Riddle, introduced to Transition Projects as a participant in 2012, speaks from personal experience.
By the numbers
According to Transition Projects, an organization helping people secure and retain permanent housing, 4,177 people were counted homeless in Portland on a single night in February 2017.
Of that number, the city’s 30.8 percent rate of “chronic” homelessness – defined as having a disabling condition and being continuously homeless for a year or longer – is twice the national average.
Homelessness in the city increased more than ten percent between 2015 and 2017, compared to increases of 39 percent in Oakland, 30 percent in Los Angeles, and 16 percent in Seattle.
The homeless population in the city is now older, more disabled, and homeless for longer. The drivers of homelessness include rising rents, which have outpaced inflation, and a shortage of at least 25,000 affordable housing units in Multnomah County. A major complicating factor is that Oregon ranks last in the nation for access to mental health care.
The Hansen Shelter
Located at 12240 N.E. Glisan St. in the building that formerly housed the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the Hansen Shelter opened in July 2016 to provide the homeless access to onsite resources during the day as well as 200 beds in small to medium-sized sleeping rooms on two floors at night. Reservations are made by phone or drop-in, and the need is acute during the winter months. The shelter houses adults 18 years and older, and includes space for 50 couples, 40 women and 60 men. Pets are also allowed if they’re well-behaved, safe and housebroken.
The shelter provides basic needs like beds, showers, and meals, plus access to storage lockers for possessions. On-site resources include housing case management, wellness access, and employment assistance.
Hansen is a low-barrier shelter “meeting people where they’re at,” meaning they provide access to a warm, safe place to sleep regardless of an individual’s state of sobriety, drug addiction, medical concerns or mental health issues. Drug use and alcohol are not permitted on-site and rules are posted: Be respectful, safe and kind.
Shared management model
Hansen is one of seven Transition Projects shelters in the Portland area, and its 200-bed capacity makes it the largest shelter in Oregon, according to Roma Peyser of Transition Projects. Daily management of the facility is shared between Riddle, 37, who held five jobs with Transition Projects before being named shelter manager at Hansen, and Browning, 25, who joined Transition Projects two years ago and worked in two temporary shelters before permanently joining Hansen as co-manager in May 2017. Sharing complementary skills, they coach participants to believe in themselves, said Riddle.
Riddle moved to Portland from Michigan in 2000, escaping a home of mental, physical and sexual abuse. With a “PhD in Street,” Riddle overcame his own addiction issues and is uniquely qualified to help participants based on his life experience. He is currently pursuing certification as an alcohol and drug counselor. “I was inspired to offer help to others who are suffering, based on my own journey and the help I received from Transition Projects,” said Riddle.
Browning has a bachelor’s degree in urban studies with an emphasis in planning and sociology, and he demonstrates a strong commitment to helping underserved populations.
The managers cite their top challenges at Hansen: an increase in the average age of participants; elderly, medically fragile individuals who don’t get the level of care they need; an uptick in mental health issues including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD (which is not limited to only veterans) that are not being adequately addressed; and a lack of affordable housing.
“There’s tons of new housing being built in Portland, but it’s not accessible to the vast majority of people here,” said Browning.
Passed in 2016, housing bond Measure 26-179, “Homes for Everyone,” funded building 1,300 affordable units, but according to Riddle the need is closer to 3,000 units. He’s excited about the tiny house movement as another tool to provide housing for Portland’s homeless population.
Last year, Transition Projects made more than 1,000 housing placements, up from 800 the previous year. The fact that one year after receiving financial assistance, 85 percent of those placed remain in permanent homes, shows that these efforts are worthwhile and sustainable. At the Hansen Shelter, 20 participants transitioned to permanent housing just last quarter.
Providing hope to the hopeless
The average stay at Hansen is 53 days, but the statistic is skewed by the fact that some participants only stay a week while elderly participants may stay several months. A very vulnerable 87-year-old, medically fragile man was able to secure veterans’ services and, with help from a housing case manager, moved into permanent housing. In 2015, A 55-year-old woman accessed services from Transition Projects, accompanied by her 30-year-old son who was disabled from a traumatic brain injury.
“Both suffered from mental health issues, and despite their unfortunate circumstances they were ultimately placed together in permanent housing,” said Riddle.
Browning said more housing and opportunities for better recuperative care will help elderly individuals like Patricia, an 81-year-old who has been at Hansen for over a year.
“Patricia is active, caring, and lifts the spirits of other participants,” said Riddle.
The Hansen Shelter provides daily refuge for many eastside homeless Portlanders, but the co-managers said a building with newer pipes, more electrical outlets, a working kitchen and updated fire escapes would go a long way to meeting participants’ needs.
For more information call 503-280-4700 or visit www.tprojects.org.