As the city of Portland struggles to adapt a comprehensive response to its homelessness crisis, a federal program is distributing $46 million to programs throughout the state that provide wraparound services to those grappling with housing instability. Of that, $28 million will go to such programs in Multnomah County.
The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Continuum of Care awards is the largest vein of federal grant funding for housing support organizations. HUD recognized nearly 40 programs in the Portland area run by Multnomah County, the city of Portland, Central City Concern, Neighborhood House, Bradley Angle House, Luke-Dorf Inc., Transitions Projects Inc., Human Solutions Inc., Northwest Pilot Project, Cascade AIDS Project, the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), JOIN, Outside In, the Urban League of Portland, Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI), New Avenues for Youth Inc., Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, The Salvation Army, Home Forward and the YWCA.
“These resources will open the doors to long-term housing stability for thousands of families in our region and will help build an equitable recovery from this time of crisis," HUD regional administrator Margaret Solle Salazar said when announcing the Oregon recipients.
The largest awards went to Home Forward’s Shelter Plus Care program ($7 million), Central City Concern’s HOPE program ($2.8 million), Project HAVEN, a rapid rehousing initiative through SEI ($2 million), Human Solutions Inc.’s Family Futures ($1.4 million) and Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s Royal Palm 2 Permanent Supportive Housing ($1.3 million). HUD’s selections represent an array of vulnerable populations served, including youth, families, communities of color, the LGBTQ community, those struggling with addiction, young mothers, veterans, seniors, immigrants and refugees.
The program’s mission is to focus on rapid rehousing for homeless individuals while “minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused by homelessness” and to ultimately “optimize self-sufficiency among those experiencing homelessness,” according to HUD.
Marcy Trueb is the survivor services manager at IRCO, working with populations that are not only new to the country but who have also survived domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking. Her program was awarded $382,000 by HUD.
“These community members are people who’ve experienced trauma, and on top of that, many of our cases are people who don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture, don’t know how to navigate the systems for services and support,” Trueb told The Skanner.
“Our role is to help them navigate those systems and to make sure they understand their rights, and we do it in a language they can understand.”
Trueb added, “The great thing about this funding in Multnomah County that we’ve just been awarded is that there is not another funding apparatus that takes into account the specific and unique needs of our community members. Because a lot of the permanent supportive housing, or the longer-term housing available, is wonderfully and understandably set aside for chronically homeless (populations) and people with disabilities, there are some categories there that don’t always reflect our community members that also need that long-term support. For example, (we often serve) people who have zero social safety net around here, they don’t have family, they don’t know how to navigate the systems, they don’t even know what systems exist. This is someone who needs intensive, long-term case management, in addition to housing. So the wonderful thing is that this enables us to give longer-term housing support while we work through the other things they’re facing.”
In previous years, IRCO received the Continuum of Care award for survivor services in Clackamas County. This will mark the first year such funding will enable the culturally specific services in Multnomah County, and the organization clarified that while its client base is largely immigrant and refugee, their services are open to everyone.
Trueb said the funding would allow IRCO to support at least 25 Portland-area participants each year through placement and advocacy.
IRCO is part of the Resource Coordination Team, a collaboration of service providers who individually use a standard screening assessment tool for domestic violence survivors, then bring cases to RCT meetings to determine which organization or organizations are best suited to serve each individual.
“The RCT and the continua of care is actually a really strong process that helps all the community service providers come together to vote on these things,” Trueb said. “So for example, if another agency has a spot available, and we present someone from our community for that spot and it makes the most sense, that person actually joins that other organization, so that organization takes over the advocacy, the housing, etc. In some cases we do co-enrollment, particularly if they handle the housing, and then we handle the rest of the advocacy and resource navigation and financial support.”
Continuum of Care eligibility requirements include those fleeing domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. HUD also granted the county $78,000 to fund the salary of a domestic violence coordinated access coordinator and $1.3 million for supportive housing for victims of domestic violence.
Trueb praised HUD’s support of survivor services, noting how isolated IRCO clients are, and how precarious their classification can be: Survivors are often not technically homeless, but need emergency housing services nonetheless.
“Because this is a housing program, that means that we’re helping them identify housing, we’re making sure that there's no lead-based paint, we’re making sure it stays habitable,” Trueb said. “There’s a lot that goes into finding the appropriate place. Some of our clients have pretty high barriers to housing or employment, some of the folks who have been in America longer might have some debts related to their trauma, they might have used their credit cards to (flee abuse). Sometimes there is a criminal history, especially for people who have been trafficked. There’s a lot of work that goes into making them renting-proficient. So even if we’re paying for their rent, they still have to be able to pass the background checks that property managers do. We get all the documentation read by an interpreter in their language, or have the rental agreement translated in whole.”
HUD awarded more than $2.6 billion to nearly 7,000 housing programs in the U.S. this year. This was the first year the program was open to Native American tribes and tribally designated housing entities.