Opening Doors for the Homeless
One cold morning a couple winters ago on my way into work our office door was partially blocked by a homeless person sleeping with a wet blanket, his feet uncovered revealing thin worn socks. For a brief moment I imagined wrapping this stranger in my arms to warm and stop the shivering as if he were one of my own children.
Unsure what to do I made a plea to our office manager. New to the job, the office, and on the clock, I learned that homeless people sleeping in doorways was a frequent occurrence in Portland. We let the downtown authorities handle the problem. Unsettled, I turned to the pile of projects on my desk vowing to find a way to help the homeless on my own time.
Not long after, I learned about an organization called JOIN specializing in street outreach in Portland since 1997. The only homeless service organization focusing exclusively on people sleeping on the street (or in doorways, sidewalks, under bridges, in cars), this non-profit has eight outreach workers whose job it is to scour the city and help the homeless transition off the street. The outreach worker’s strategy is to develop trusting relationships with those sleeping on the street, get them the warm and dry gear they need to survive, and help them find permanent housing.
JOIN has provided ongoing support in the form of warm clothing, housing, furniture, household items, food boxes, utility assistance and community-building support. Last year (in 2015) JOIN found permanent housing for 800 people, one-third of those were children. About 75 percent of the new tenants benefiting from JOIN’s efforts maintained housing for at least 12 months.
The organization also has a Day Center (known as “the house”) providing critical basic services to 80-100 people each day, five days a week. The house serves as a mailing address for the homeless and a place to get a snack, cup of coffee, and a visit from friendly volunteers who hand out the mail. Visitors can take a shower, use the restroom, get needed clothing, hygiene items, Laundromat vouchers, bus tickets, and referral information.
Every night there are roughly 2000 homeless people sleeping on the street (or in cars, under bridges, other hidden places). Another 2500 are in emergency shelters or transition housing.
Rapidly rising housing costs in Portland (with the highest in the nation at a 15 percent increase last year) led our City Council to declare a state of emergency in December 2015. According to Portland Independent Chamber of Commerce (PICOC), four out of 10 families can’t find affordable housing in Portland and homelessness is on the rise. This year, due to an 11 percent increase in rent across the city, the cost of transitioning a homeless family into permanent housing went from $8000 to $10,000 this year.
If you’re not sure what you can do, JOIN has some concrete solutions and could really use your help, helping the homeless transition into permanent housing. The nonprofit relies on grants, foundations, partnerships, and individual donations to deliver the much-needed services to Portland’s growing homeless population.
Coming up this summer and fall are two major fundraising events (held each year around the same time) – a golf tournament in June, and a comedy night in October. Through sponsorships, silent auction, a raffle, and purchased tickets – the entire precedes from these events goes towards the cost of transitioning individuals and families into permanent housing.
The 10th annual Door’s Open Charity Golf Tournament this year will be held on June 20, 2016. Last year the charity golf tournament enabled JOIN to house 65 families. This year, the goal is to house 70 families. An all day event promising to bring out about 140 golfers, funds are raised through purchased player packages, corporate sponsorships, and a silent auction. For non-golfers this year there’s a Mimosa Meet & Greet event where you can join in conversation, enjoy brunch, a silent auction, and meet the folks at JOIN.
This year’s Hullabaloo – scheduled for October 13, 2016 with more details to follow on JOIN’s website – is a unique comedy event held at Castaway with good food, drinks, music and an opportunity to meet with others who are concerned about Portland’s growing homeless community. Last year’s event drew a crowd of more than 250 and raised enough funds to move 70 homeless people into permanent housing.
How You Can Help
In addition to sponsorships, JOIN is looking for gifts for the golf tournament’s silent auction such as wine and vineyard tours, weekend getaways and vacation packages, spas, and tickets to local sports events. For the Hullabaloo raffle and auction, the event is looking for sponsorships or in-kind donations such as original artwork, gift certificates for local restaurants, tickets to evening outings, sports, or other fun events, wine and beer packages, or anything else you might enjoy giving or receiving for a special night out.
If you just can’t wait for either of these events and prefer a more direct approach, there are lots of other ways to help. You can make a donation, provide in-kind gifts, and of course volunteers are needed and warmly welcomed by all.
There’s an ongoing needs list that gets longer each year. JOIN is always looking for cold weather items (gently used or new) like socks, coats, blankets, hygiene items like shampoo, shaving cream, and feminine products, first aid supplies, and basic service center items like peanut butter – a staple at the Day Center. Things like bus tickets, backpacks, stamps, and bath towels are always in short supply.
Author: Kathryn Thomsen
Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. Kathryn is a social entrepreneur, consultant, researcher, writer and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to develop climate change solutions, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.