Note: Metro normally edits out or around occasional swear words. In this case, such edits would undermine the individual’s story and perspective. Reader discretion is advised.
“We weren’t always houseless,” Raven explained, sitting in the community room of the Cathedral Village apartments where he lives with his husband Dash and their malamute puppy Oscar. Raven – who also goes by Feather – moved to Portland in 2012 to be closer to family in the Salem and Woodburn areas. He and Dash met in 2014 shortly after Dash moved to Portland, and he moved in with Raven soon after.
“We had to leave everything, even the cat."
Management at the low-income apartment complex where Raven was living did not want to add Dash to the lease, and various conflicts escalated over several months. While the couple were on their honeymoon to New Orleans in 2015, an eviction notice for alleged non-payment of rent was served to their apartment.
Raven was using a wheelchair at the time and the couple weren’t able to take much with them when they left their home. “We had to leave everything, even the cat.”
At the time, Raven explained, there was a federal rule that any tenant who has been evicted from an apartment community that received funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development couldn’t live in another building funded by the agency for five years. Unable to afford market rents yet disqualified from resources available to individuals without any income at all due to Raven’s disability checks, they were left with no option but to live outside.
For a while, Raven and Dash camped under the Hawthorne Bridge by OMSI, but when the encampments were threatened with sweeps they knew they had to find somewhere else to go. They had been volunteering with Sisters of the Road at their Greeley Forest Garden in North Portland, and someone told them they could camp around the garden. After an initial sweep at that site, they moved their belongings further up the hill behind the garden and eventually became some of the founding residents of the Hazelnut Grove community.
During this time, Dash attended Portland Youth Builders, an organization that offers education, vocational training, career development and other support for young people who have experienced poverty and other challenges. Raven remembers him leaving every morning at 6 a.m. for class while living at Hazelnut Grove. Raven became active in the Village Coalition, a group of housed and unhoused Portlanders who advocate for resident-run village-style communities like Hazelnut Grove.
“...and I get hit and killed by a drunk driver"
Things were looking up for the couple when a friend gave them an RV, on the same day Dash graduated from Portland Youth Builders in 2020. But everything changed in August of that year when Raven was seriously injured by an uninsured drunk driver while visiting his dad in Texas.
He remembers being parked by the side of the road on his motorcycle trying to get his GPS to work, when he saw lights barreling toward him in the shoulder lane. Then he was walking through a field barefoot, confused about how he got there from being on the highway only moments before. “Then I saw Death,” he said “[and] I told him to fuck off. I don't know who would do that, but I did. And I was like, ‘I will see my husband one more time.’”
When Raven regained consciousness, paramedics were sliding him into a helicopter. He was left with a broken neck and many other injuries – including a traumatic brain injury – and had been deceased for a short time, surprising the medical team when he suddenly woke up.
While he was in the hospital, Raven got a call from Portland that the RV was going to be impounded unless he signed some paperwork. He remembers his reaction: “I’m like... 'I’m literally lying in a bed, can’t move, just got hit and killed.'”
By the time he returned to Portland in November, their RV was gone. Raven called some friends he knew through his time at Hazelnut Grove and found out about the emergency shelter Do Good Multnomah was running at the Charles Jordan Community Center in North Portland. From there the couple moved briefly to the St. Johns Village and then to several motel shelters. Raven’s case manager Gennesis helped him manage medical appointments and arranged transportation, and later a TriMet card, so he could get to them.
In June 2022 the couple started working with Do Good’s Mobile Support Services team to find housing and the support needed to have a successful transition. The team collaborated with outside agencies to help Raven and Dash connect with services like mental health support and disability income. The couple receives short-term – or Rapid Rehousing – rent assistance. Both the Mobile Support Services and Rapid Rehousing programs are paid for by Metro’s supportive housing services fund.
Living with disability: “It’s frustrating when I can’t do things”
Finding housing that could accommodate Raven’s physical needs was challenging. The couple wanted something close to the MAX so Raven could get to his appointments at OHSU – where he sees five different specialists – but they weren’t able to find anything that fit that description. Eventually the couple bought a scooter, and their housing retention specialist helped them apply for a Portland Housing Bond apartment community that was still under construction in the North Portland neighborhood of Cathedral Park.
Raven and Dash have lived in their apartment since August. Raven continues to recover from his accident and improve his physical and mental capabilities, but it has been a long and difficult road.
“I have six or seven black outs a day where I don't remember shit. I won't recognize things, I don't have words… I can't think my way out of a paper bag. Like if I get really upset and something goes wrong, I'm screwed,” Raven explained. “I fall a lot too. Out of nowhere I won’t be able to function and it sucks. It’s frustrating when I can’t do things.”
There are many things Raven loves to do and is not able to at this stage of his recovery. He is a state certified peer support specialist with a professional history working in the behavioral health field. He misses working but is unable to work with clients due to his memory issues. Similarly, he enjoys cooking and rock climbing, but both activities are complex and potentially dangerous with limitations on his short-term memory. Reflecting on this, Raven pointed out the irony of having battled with suicidal thoughts and depression for many years and now having a strong desire to live due to his near-death experience and struggle to regain his cognitive and physical health.
One thing that has really helped with his recovery is their dog, Oscar. Raven is unable to walk up the steep hill by his home by himself, but with Oscar he can. Oscar also lets Raven know when he is pushing too hard and doing something potentially unsafe. “Having Oscar makes my life a lot easier because having a service animal that has saved my life twice is definitely an amazing thing.” Oscar’s official service animal certification is in-process, which will enable Raven to be able to bring him into public spaces including transit.
“It’s nice knowing that change is always abundant”
What Raven enjoys most about his new home is the natural setting by the river. The quiet and the train sounds at night remind him of the area where he grew up in rural New Jersey. He loves walking Oscar in the park and watching the river tides change.
“I like being in nature,” he said. ”It reminds me that I'm okay, that there's a chance that something will change, because I get to watch change happen all the time… So that's nice, watching the tide all the time. While I’m walking the dog, I'll see the river come up along the banks a lot higher and then I'll see the beach again. So it's nice to see that. It's nice knowing that change is always abundant. And being as Native as I am, I love being able to see certain things, even if I don't recognize things anymore like I used to.”
Looking ahead, Raven and Dash would like to buy a house and are saving towards that goal. As Raven explained, owning their own home will make things much easier in the future if he needs a caregiver, which can sometimes be an issue when living in a rental home. Additionally, they may be able to rent out some of the rooms for income. He’d like to live in a rural area like Woodburn, somewhere that reminds him of where he grew up and is close to his aunt and cousin.