Gov. Kate Brown, Chair Deborah Kafoury call for continued state investment in housing, shelter: ‘It’s the right thing to do. It’s as simple as that’

December 20, 2018

Sean Williams makes a heart with her hands after showing her dance moves to Gov. Kate Brown and Chair Deborah Kafoury at the Gresham Women's Shelter on Dec. 17, 2019.
The women at the Gresham Women’s Shelter were ready for Gov. Kate Brown.

Jessica McQueen presented her Chihuahua, Twix, for a few ear-scratches and head pats. Jamie Finney chatted and shook hands. And then there was Sean Williams, decked in gold shoes and ready to show off the dance moves she’s trained for months to perfect.

After talking with Brown and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Williams leapt three feet into the air, fell to her knees as she landed, bent backward until her head all but touched the floor — and then sprang back to her feet, all in one fluid set of motions.

Williams finished by holding her hands in the shape of a heart, echoing the Governor’s gesture to a crowd of supporters the night she won re-election.

“You could be in Cirque du Soleil,” Brown said, astonished by the display.

Williams bowed. Getting discovered is her plan, she said. That way, she’ll not only be able to end her own homelessness, but also help others do the same.

Gov. Kate Brown holds Twix while the dog's mom, Jessica, looks on.
“When I have a million dollars, I can donate to this cause,” she said, looking around the shelter. “I want to fix it for homeless people all across the globe.”  

Brown was at the shelter — the only one exclusively available for women east of César E. Chávez Boulevard — for a tour and brief media event meant to highlight the record level of statewide housing and homelessness services she’s called for in her latest budget.

Brown’s proposed budget for the next two fiscal years, released last month, calls for more than $400 million in continued and new investments.

That includes maintaining the state funds that help the Joint Office and nonprofit provider Human Solutions keep the 90-bed Gresham Women’s Shelter running, and other state investments that help fund shelter beds for families in the winter.

“We need to get children and families, and women and veterans, off our streets, and these investments will help with that,” Brown said during brief remarks.

She also said her budget would create housing that’s not just affordable, but dignified, too. “Not just four walls,” she said. And not rents that mean “choosing which bills to pay.”

Gov. Kate Brown holds Twix while the dog's mom, Jessica, looks on.
“We need to all work together to ensure we provide more affordable housing,” she said.

Brown spoke alongside Chair Kafoury, as well as Commissioner Lori Stegmann, Oregon Housing and Community Services Director Margaret Salazar, and Oregon Rep. Carla Piluso and Sen.-elect Shemia Fagan, both of whom represent east County.

Chair Kafoury said the Metro region’s prosperity, which has driven up housing costs, has punished people who were already struggling to make ends meet.

“For many, the end result is losing your home, which, in turn, means all the things in life that were already hard, like going to doctors’ appointments, looking for work — have now become almost impossible,” she said.

“But we live in a community and in a state that share a commitment to prioritize those who fall through the cracks. The reason we do this? Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s as simple as that.”

Multnomah County and Portland opened the 24-hour, services-enriched shelter, operated by Human Solutions, in late 2016 as a way to provide more safety for women on the streets, who experience higher rates of physical and sexual violence.

More than two-thirds of the women at the shelter are domestic violence survivors, and nearly half came to the shelter without any income of their own to find housing.

Williams, who is African American, said she’s struggled after an abusive relationship with her family. She said she’s looked for work for nearly two years, but has encountered racism and discrimination that have made opportunities harder to find.

In Multnomah County, African Americans make up 16 percent of people counted as homeless, despite making up just 7 percent of the population overall and 14 percent of residents below the poverty line.   

“I just want a roof over my head,” she said, “that I can actually maintain.”