Multnomah County this week announced it would invest about $40,000 to help the region’s only low-barrier winter family shelter stay open through the end of the school year.
“We want to give children the ability to finish their school year with the least transition and interruption to their education, to let them experience finishing something with grace when other things may feel chaotic,” said Tiffany Kingery, who oversees the program for the Multnomah County Department of Human Services.
The Family Winter Shelter in East Portland, operated by Human Solutions, traditionally houses about 20 families, or up to 100 people, from Nov. 1 through March 31. Dennis' 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Centers has for the past two years committed to supporting an additional month of operations to extend the shelter through April.
This year the shelter will remain open to mid-June.
It is one of three family shelters the county supports with a budget of $715,000 per year. Kingery said they’ve seen a steady rise in the number of homeless clients seeking shelter.
Jean DeMaster, executive director of Human Solutions, said the winter shelter last month hit its highest occupancy rate since opening seven years ago.
On March 16 the shelter slept 130. People tell her they’re struggling to find work that pays well enough to support steady housing.
“They can get minimum wage jobs, but it’s not enough to pay rent, buy food, clothing,” she said. “What they’re finding is a market for affordable low income housing at a vacancy rate less than 1 percent. And they can’t find a place that will rent even though they’re working. If rent is $700, the property management company might say, ‘I want you to have 1.5 times that in income.’”
Human Solutions is a member of A Home for Everyone, a collaborative of government officials, nonprofit partners and housing advocates who are developing a regional strategy to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey sits on its board. He said having a warm safe place to sleep is a “moral right.”
“Shelters give individuals a sense of dignity and connect the resources we have like housing assistance, skills training and income attainment,” said Commissioner Bailey. “Shelter workers can be the critical first connection and positive relationship to help folks navigate the challenges of getting back into housing and navigating the maze of the rental market.”
Shelters workers can also pair families with a housing specialist to help connect them to resources for continued education and job placement.
“Seventy-six additional nights of warmth, dryness, and safety is a big deal,” Commissioner Bailey said.