“I was raised pretty well off,” she said. “I never thought I’d be that person that's walking downtown, not knowing where to go or living in a tent.”
But after receiving services through the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ Housing Multnomah Now pilot program, Jessica is living in a one-bedroom apartment and working to get back on her feet.
She’s one of 17 people who’ve been housed so far through the program. The goal of the program is to develop and refine strategies for moving people without shelter from tents into apartments — providing intensive outreach and onsite case management and housing navigation at high-impact campsites, as well as shelter access for those who might need an interim step while working on their housing plan.
Longtime homeless services provider Transition Projects was contracted by the Joint Office to implement the program, playing a key role in designing and operationalizing the pilot. Transition Projects workers were onsite at the Steel Bridge campsite in northwest Portland for months. First, the workers conducted a survey of the approximately 150 people living at the site, then began providing case management and housing placement services for a smaller group. Beyond the 17 people housed so far, an additional 16 were helped into shelters, including nine at the City of Portland’s first Temporary Alternative Shelter Site in Southeast Portland.
The project is ramping down its work at the Steel Bridge campsite, and will soon be implemented at a campsite in East County.
Jessica said she believes in the model. She said what was so effective was the fact that case managers were on-site every weekday, meeting people where they are to support them on the path to housing.
“I definitely think it works. It works more than any other program I've ever tried to do,” she said. “They helped me with anything I needed.”
“I then started a downward spiral,” Jessica said.
By December 2022, her lease was up on her apartment, and she knew she couldn’t afford the rent anymore. She moved out voluntarily to avoid an eviction on her record.
She’d tried getting help a few times, saying she’d gotten “the runaround” on housing. That changed when Housing Multnomah Now started at the Steel Bridge campsite where she was living. Within days of Transition Projects beginning their work there, she had a case manager who guided her through the process of getting housed.
One of the goals of Housing Multnomah Now is helping people identify and navigate around barriers that might be preventing them from getting into housing or accessing services.
“I have no criminal background, but they had my credit history and found that I had two things on there that weren't even mine,” Jessica said, “and those were my barriers for getting an apartment.”
It turned out that her credit history showed an unpaid electric bill and an eviction, neither of which were hers. Transition Projects worked with her to start the process of clearing those from her credit history.
A few weeks later, Jessica signed the lease on her apartment in July. “The process was pretty fast,” she said. “When I found out that I had a place, I just couldn't believe it, it was like I had just won this amazing award or something.”
Now that she’s settling into her new home, Jessica said she’s appreciating some of the things she took for granted before she was homeless.
“I just was excited to cook a meal for the first time after being homeless and living in a tent for a while. I was really excited to shower,” she said. “You take those things for granted a lot.”
One thing that’s important to her is the independence of her new housing. “I've been in relationships one after another, with people that I had never been to hold a relationship with,” she said. “And this is my home now. All my previous homes were with someone else. It’s a really big milestone because I'm learning to live alone.”
And she’s taking this opportunity to get back on her feet. “I have a place to get my bearings and get things straight,” she said. Her goal is by next July to have an income stream allowing her to pay her own rent. (As part of Housing Multnomah Now, her rent is covered for a year.)
Even though she moved in recently, she’s working every day toward that goal. “A year comes up pretty quick,” she said.
To get there, she’s been doing one thing every day that gets her closer to that goal, and keeping track of it in a journal.
“It doesn't have to be two things. Just one thing that contributes to getting to that goal,” she said. That includes learning a new skill online, updating her résumé or finding tips for job interviews.
“I know that there's probably some people that don't agree with helping people with housing, because they’re going to work every day, they’re doing their part,” she said. “But some of us — I lost my business during the pandemic. I just needed a boost. I hope that when I’m working, which I will be within a year, I will be able to give back, too.”