Daisy and her family were living in an apartment complex in Gresham when her husband was in a serious accident and suddenly everything changed. Daisy and her two kids – an infant and an eight-year-old – spent every day at the hospital for two months. Daisy’s husband was bringing in the family’s sole income, and without any way to pay their rent Daisy had to give up their apartment and sleep in the car with the kids. Her eight-year-old son offered to get a job at McDonald’s so they wouldn’t lose their home.
Sitting in the laundry room of her new apartment building with her baby on her lap, Daisy was overcome with emotion remembering the difficulty of that time. “I totally forgot about my needs,” she remembered. “All this time we were so focused to see what was going to happen to him, I ended up losing my car - we lost everything basically.”
Daisy knew about JOIN from a previous occasion when the nonprofit organization helped her family with the costs of moving into their Gresham apartment, so she reached out to see if there was anything they could do. As part of the recently launched regional rapid re-housing program, JOIN staff set Daisy and her family up with an Emergency Housing Voucher and helped them find a new apartment. This program pairs short-term rent assistance with help finding housing, in addition to case management to support stability after moving into a new home. It’s specifically designed for people who are at the edge of homelessness or have recently lost their homes, and the type of services and length of the rent assistance period is tailored to each household’s unique individual needs. The program is paid for by Metro’s supportive housing services fund.
Daisy’s case worker, Denise, is a bilingual housing retention specialist who has been working with JOIN for about six months. She supports participants in the Rapid Rehousing program once they’re in their new homes, connecting them with essentials like furniture, food and employment resources. In addition to helping Daisy and her family with necessities, Denise also provides essential emotional support. “I know she’s right there,” said Daisy, “and that makes me feel better. And it makes things easier. Even just telling her something makes you feel better.”
As with Daisy’s situation, things happen unexpectedly in life, “and that's where we need to come in,” Denise explained, to “help make sure that they find the resources and find the different avenues to be self-sufficient.” As a single mother who has faced difficult circumstances and has also had to advocate for herself and her child, Denise relates to what Daisy is going through. Denise was incarcerated for the first three years of her daughter’s life and struggled with reentry when she was released. She worked different jobs while she and her daughter lived with her mom, but she wasn’t able to save enough money to move into her own place.
After calling 211 and having a hard time finding help that was the right fit, she got in touch with JOIN and they were able to pay her move-in costs and a up to a year of rent. Denise did all the legwork to find their apartment, which was challenging with a criminal record. At first, she was denied at both apartments she applied for. Determined to find a home for herself and her daughter, she appealed the denials. She collected character witness letters and wrote a statement about how she had changed in the years since her incarceration, and was ultimately accepted for both apartments. After a year of rent assistance from JOIN, Denise was able to afford the rent on her own.
This support “was like a lifesaving, lifesaving opportunity,” Denise said, “because I was able to become a mother. I was able to provide for my daughter. I was able to give myself a home even with my record. And they gave me it, gave me the opportunity.” This experience – along with a Head Start parenting program she participated in while incarcerated – inspired her to apply for the housing retention position at JOIN. “I found my purpose,” she reflected. “I feel great about what I do every day, I know that I make a difference in someone's life.”
Nicole is a survivor of domestic violence and human trafficking from a young age. Originally from Eugene, she came to Portland last winter with some friends who left her stranded. She stayed at a woman’s shelter for about three months before connecting with Washington County’s Rapid Rehousing program through 211. From there it was only a week between getting her first call from her case worker Amanda, with the Urban League of Portland, and moving into her new home in Beaverton.
At age 34, Nicole is living alone for the first time in her life. “It means more than life itself,” she explained. “This program has done more for me than people will ever know.” The apartment is more peaceful than other places she’s lived, many of which weren’t in a good neighborhood or environment. The apartment windows look out onto a little creek and Nicole finds the water relaxing. Home finally feels like a sanctuary: “Once I close the door, everything out there is out there and it’s not here.”
Amanda helps her with necessities like furniture, food boxes and other things one needs when moving into a new home. Nicole calls her to check in about what she’s going through: “She’s helped me with a lot of words of wisdom and encouragement.” Nicole – who is Black – described experiencing racism accessing services in Eugene. Culturally specific service providers like the Urban League are important for members of communities that have had these negative experiences with social services. One of the goals of Metro’s supportive housing services fund is to increase the availability of these services across the region.
Now that Nicole has a safe, stable place to live, she’s able to process and heal from a lifetime of trauma and living in survival mode. She plans to go back to school for a bachelor's in psychology with a major in criminal justice. Ultimately, she would like to start a nonprofit to help other people who’ve experienced domestic violence and human trafficking. She wants to provide hope and a way out; she wants to be a light like Amanda has been for her.
“I feel like I’m built for this,” said Amanda, “I’m just a people person.” Amanda has been a rapid re-housing case manager with the Urban League in Washington County for about four months. During this time, she’s connected fifteen individuals with housing, including someone with a felony on their record, which was especially challenging. Her work isn’t just about the housing itself; it includes services to address mental health challenges and past trauma, logistics like paperwork and obtaining identification documents, help with budgeting and more.
Amanda takes a graduated approach to helping program participants stabilize and adjust to their new situation after being housed. For the first three months she focuses on getting them to a place where they’re comfortable in their new environment, prioritizing mental health and trying to understand how she can best assist them as case manager. At the three month mark she begins to talk about setting goals, asking participants to think about what they envision in their future. “You are the captain of your own ship,” she tells participants. “How do we get you to where you need to be?”
When Amanda meets a new program participant for the first time, she explains that no matter what their situation, they can always make a fresh start. She likes to connect with them by sharing some of her own experiences: “because I made myself vulnerable, they were able to get vulnerable with me.” Like Denise, she brings her full self to this work, including what she’s learned from past challenges and struggle. This comes through in her rapport with participants. According to Nicole, “It's hard to find someone who genuinely, genuinely cares.” Reflecting on her experience with other case workers, “it’s easy to feel like a statistic, but Amanda makes you more than a statistic; she makes you a success story, and she goes above and beyond to do so.”
Shaun and his family bought a house in 2018. When the pandemic began they banded together, but as it wore on he saw signs the marriage was falling apart. Then everything happened at once: he lost his job, his 17-year marriage ended, and his wife got the house and custody of their two daughters. Reflecting on that time he remembers being lost, “spiritually, physically, financially – everything.”
When Shaun lost his home he called Washington County’s homelessness services system, Community Connect, and they guided him through available resources. It was Shaun’s first time experiencing homelessness and it “wasn’t easy,” he said, “I was literally in survival mode.” He tried sleeping at shelters, but the rules prohibited guests from parking their vehicles outside, which was a challenge because he still had his truck. He was also worried someone would break into it and steal his things. In the end, he slept in his truck instead.
One day Amanda called. At first, when she said she was going to help him find housing, Shaun thought it was too good to be true. But once they started working together things came together quickly, and she found an apartment for him within a month. Amanda helped him with furniture, cooking supplies, appliances and other home accessories. She also let him know about job fairs. Shaun currently has a job and is attending school for psychology and learning about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – a common therapeutic approach in the mental health field. One day he’d like to use his experience to help others: “I’m going to give back what I’ve gotten, and that’s another chance.”
The Rapid Rehousing program gave Shaun the opportunity to find stability, most importantly so he can bring his kids back into his life. He’s currently going through the legal process to see them. “I’ve come a long ways,” Shaun reflected. “They’re helping me basically get back on my feet and be safe [and] get my life back together.”
Thinking back on the time she experienced homelessness, sleeping in her car with her kids, Daisy believes the family would have ended up sleeping on the street without the support of JOIN and Denise. Looking forward, Daisy and Denise are focusing on finding daycare for her baby daughter while Daisy works on her state certification to work as a caregiver. It’s reassuring to know if that career path doesn’t work out, she’ll still have a home. Having rent assistance and support during this time has greatly improved her mental health. Now she can fully be here for her family: “Before I felt like my head was going to explode…I'm not so mentally stressed now,” she said. Sleeping at night is easier, “knowing I have a place for my kids. Even though I have all these problems, I have a home.”
Her role with JOIN has given Denise a new outlook on social work, in contrast to negative experiences when she was growing up. “It really has just shifted my whole life,” Denise explained. “It made me realize what I wanted to do in life. What I love to do is help people.” As a woman, a Latina and someone who has experienced homelessness herself, Denise can draw on her own life experiences to connect with and support program participants. “I bring my whole self to work,” she said, “and I'm happy. I've never been able to say that.”
In the second year of Metro’s supportive housing services fund, dozens of organizations connected over 1,100 people in greater Portland with short-term rent assistance and support services through the rapid re-housing program.