Once homeless, Jasmine Zamora, 8, can now complete her homework where it should be done: at home (Amanda Lucier)

Understanding Homelessness In Portland

An organization here in Portland, called JOIN, places homeless families and individuals into housing, and supports them through that transition. In 2014, they helped 560 people find a place to live. In 2015, that number rose to 800. Of those, 274 were children like Jasmine Zamora, 8, pictured above.

The day we visited Jasmine she had just come home from school and started in on her spelling homework. Her list of elementary words couldn’t be more fitting for the current situation we now face: affordable housing is unevenly distributed. We recognize the need to rebuild the system. The future offers opportunities to restart this work, and uncover creative, collaborative solutions. And yes, we recognize this process will be far from tidy and may be displeasing to some.

We envision a future where we band together, confront these challenges, and take care of all Portlanders.

Homelessness and a lack of affordable housing are crises in Portland; our City Council declared a state of emergency over housing back in December. If you aren’t familiar with the stats, they are eye-opening:

  • Four in ten families can’t find affordable housing here.
  • We are short an estimated 40,ooo affordable housing units in the Portland area.
  • Last year it cost $8,000 to transition a homeless family like Jasmine’s into housing. Today, because of the 11% year-over-year rent increase felt across the city, that cost has risen to $10,000.
  • Homelessness is on the rise among families, children, women and people of color.

To better understand the housing crisis from someone intimately familiar with the issue, we invited Israel Bayer, editor of Street Roots, to meet with us. We asked him a question he gets so often that he wrote about it in this issue’s Editor’s Letter: what’s going on out there?

The more we heard from Israel, we realized that the best way for the business community to respond is to become educated about the history of affordable housing and homelessness issues in Portland, who’s doing effective work to improve the situation today, and what we can all do to support that work going forward.

Call To Action

We discovered that there is a tremendous opportunity to invite more people, especially from the business community, to get involved with and learn more about this issue.

We are inviting 50 people to Join PICOC, Street Roots, and the Welcome Home Coalition at an event on Monday, March 14, hosted at Panic. Register here.

This is a friendraiser and fundraiser for the Welcome Home Coalition, a coalition of 120 local organizations devoted to advocating for affordable housing solutions in the Portland Metro region. We invite you to join us as we learn about the issue of homelessness and how the community is organizing to solve it. Our goal is to have 50 people attend this free (suggested donation) event. Members of PICOC look forward to meeting you there. Thank you for spreading the word!

There is so much more to be done. In addition to our monthly call to action, we have two additional asks.

Get a homeless family into housing

Your company can make a charitable, tax-deductible donation to JOIN, and organization that places homeless families and individuals into housing. The need is overwhelming. Members of PICOC will match this donation up to $2500. Please share this opportunity with your company and email us at hellopicoc@gmail.com if you’re interested in partnering. This will help families like Jasmine’s.

Vickie Garibay has been the caretaker of her grandchildren Marco Zamoria, 10, and Jasmine Zamora, 8, since 2009. After a period of homelessness, they found their current apartment with the help of JOIN. “These kids, they understand what being homeless is, because they’ve lived through it,” says Garibay. “Family is the most important thing, and we’re just trying to stay together.” (Amanda Lucier)

Keep up with the people who are confronting this issue every day.

We created a list of Twitter accounts to make it easier to stay abreast of housing issues in Portland.

Now, here’s a sample tweet you can share:

Care about #homelessness in #pdx? Follow & signal boost the work of these worthy local organizations.

Street Roots: websiteTwitterFacebook 
Welcome Home Coalition: websiteTwitterFacebook
Oregon Housing Alliance: websiteTwitterFacebook
JOIN PDX: websiteTwitterFacebook
Right 2 Dream Too: websiteTwitterFacebook
Oregon Opportunity Network: websiteTwitterFacebook
Portland Women’s Crisis Line: websiteTwitterFacebook
Portland Housing Bureau: websiteTwitterFacebook

As always, you can find us at picoc.org, on Twitter, and on Facebook
Special thanks to Cabel Maxfield Sasser at Panic for hosting the event and to photojournalist Amanda Lucier.