People gather outside of Sisters of the Road Cafe in the Old Town Neighborhood in downtown Portland.
By Jake Thomas
On Thursday, at a public forum on equitable access to social services, a panel of city and county officials got a glimpse at what’s working and not working with Portland’s safety net, as well as the region’s changing social landscape.
The meeting was the second in a series intended to get input on the “Consolidated Plan,” which will determine how Portland, Gresham, and Multnomah County spend $100 million in community-development funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the next five years.
Wearing a bushy beard and black knit cap, Barry Joe Stull told the panel, which met at King School in northeast Portland, that he had been evicted from non-profit housing and was now homeless.
“It kind of means: I got pushed under the bus, and since I’m under the bus I can look up and say, ‘the wheel is about to fall off,’” said Stull of his situation.
He said that he has had trouble finding a place to sleep, and was often hassled by police under the city’s anti-camping ordinance, which makes it illegal to sleep on public property.
Stull explained that he had been given flyers stating that transitional housing was available. However, when he inquired about it at Transitional Projects Inc., he discovered that the waiting list was 10-weeks long.
“This is insane,” said an irate Stull.
Deborah Willoughby, an information referral specialist, said that she has a good sense of what needs are going unmet as people call in to inquire about social services. The people who call in have problems that range from home foreclosure to getting help with badly needed medical treatment, she said.
“What we’re seeing right now, and it’s no surprise to anyone working in social services, our call volume is really high,” said Willoughby.
She recalled how a woman with diabetes called in whose teeth hurt so badly from untreated dental problems that she couldn’t eat. Willoughby also mentioned how a laid-off carpenter called in who needed serious medical attention from a broken wrist. Both had very limited resources, she said.
The meeting also revealed how gentrification has driven many residents from north and northeast Portland to east Multnomah County, which complicates the work of social service providers.
Jim Buck, chair of the East County Caring Community, noted that none of the meetings on the Consolidated Plan were within five miles of Gresham, which poses a barrier for residents of east county in getting their voices heard.
“We’ve seen increased migration from gentrification in neighborhoods,” said Buck, who drove 20 miles to attend the meeting. “I certainly ask that you look at that in terms of collecting information.”
Pat Daniels, who works with the job training provider Constructing Hope, noted that her organization, which prepares African American men with criminal histories for construction jobs, has had its work complicated because of gentrification in north and northeast Portland.
The meeting also revealed what does work.
Brian Franz told the panel how he was once homeless and struggled with substance abuse, but with the help of Central City Concern, a large social services provider, he got clean, got a job, and is now living a productive life. He stressed that funding for similar services was essential.
A number of individuals from local non-profits made an impassioned case for more funding for job training and micro loans for small entrepreneurs, arguing that both were essential to getting people connected with living-wage jobs.
Andrew Mason, the director of Open Meadows, which operates an alternative school and job training program, hoped that the Consolidated Plan would include job training funding for young people who face often have trouble getting work from a lack of experience.
He brought along 20-year-old Jacqueline Seeley, who a landed a job in an assisted living facility from her job training at Open Meadows.
“We can’t get into good jobs without some sort of back story- without someone to really speak for us,” said Seeley, who is now studying to be a nurse, of the barriers young people face in getting work.
The next meeting is on November 4 at the United Way at 619 Southwest 11th Avenue from 2-4 p.m. The following day, another hearing will be held from 6-8 p.m. at New Columbia Community Center at 4605 North Trenton Street.
The plan needs to be approved by both Gresham and Portland city councils, as well as the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.