“They believed in me”: After experiencing incarceration and drug addiction, Clarice finds hope with a program that pairs mental health treatment with housing subsidies
For many years, Clarice had trouble moving forward. She says she struggled with addiction more than half of her life, and served several prison sentences for drug-related charges. “All my life, I’ve been two steps forward, 50 steps backward,” she said.
But thanks to support she’s received from the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest (NARA NW) — including a Regional Long-Term Rent Assistance voucher that helped her move into housing — has provided Clarice the stability that eluded her for so many years.
That pairing of services and housing is a signature part of the region’s expanding response to homelessness, allowing for more alignment between housing and healthcare systems. And it’s made possible by planning work by the Joint Office of Homeless Services, using funding from the Supportive Housing Services Measure.
A couple years ago, Clarice entered prison for the third time, and she says it meant losing everything. She lost custody of her children. She lost her job. And she lost her housing subsidy, which meant losing the apartment she’d been raising her family in for years.
“I felt like I didn't want to live anymore,” Clarice said. “How many times do I have to take steps forward and raise my kids and then get it all wiped out from under my feet again?”
But Clarice began making progress, getting sober and securing a job as a cleaner in Central City Concern’s Clean Start program after leaving prison in October 2022.
“I built relationships with them and they planted seeds in me. And they believed in me even when I wasn't living my life right,” Clarice said of the NARA ACT program.
Before voters approved the Supportive Housing Services Measure, NARA’s ACT program wasn’t able to offer housing directly to clients. Now, the program is able to fill that gap, and help clients achieve better outcomes, by offering Regional Long-Term Rent Assistance vouchers that subsidize rent in market-rate apartments on a long-term basis.
Clarice said that when she reengaged with NARA’s services after leaving prison, staff told her they would be able to get her a housing voucher. “For like four months, I didn't want to believe it because I didn't feel worthy. I didn't trust it,” she said. But a few months later, she was able to sign the lease on a new apartment and is now living on her own.
And, after seven months in the Clean Start program, she left to begin a new job as an outreach specialist for the Bybee Lakes Hope Center shelter. She said it’s rewarding to help people going through similar struggles as her. “It's amazing. If I can clean up my life, then anybody can.”
A version of this story appears in Multnomah County’s Supportive Housing Services Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2022-2023. Read the report here.