After escaping domestic violence, Cameron Foster and her four young daughters found themselves living in a 1996 Honda. Despite efforts to secure employment and adequate housing, jobs were scarce and rent was too high.
“Homelessness looks different for everybody,” said Foster during Thursday’s Public Health Portland Style event focusing on housing crisis. “Not everyone who is homeless is lazy, battles addiction or has a mental health condition. To be safe, we had to leave. But, we had nowhere to go.”
Foster’s case is all too familiar. Approximately 13,000 Oregonians are homeless, and nearly 4,000 reside in Multnomah County, according to Ryan Deibert, senior program specialist with the Joint Office of Homeless Services for Multnomah County. While this problem may seem hopeless, Diebert offered three basic options to help mitigate the epidemic:
- Prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
- Make it possible to get homeless individuals into affordable housing quickly.
- Provide temporary short-term housing and support options to ensure safety.
Israel Bayer, executive director of Street Roots, agrees with Deibert and called on community members to help communicate the need for affordable housing and tenant laws to their local and state representatives. Perhaps more importantly, Bayer recommends that individuals “look homeless people in the eye and acknowledge that they, too, are human.”
While Diebert doesn’t expect these actions will create an environment where no Oregonian will ever experience homelessness, he does believe they could make homelessness a “rare, brief and one-time experience.”
There is hope that Diebert’s solution may work: After approximately seven months of shelter and street living, Foster and her daughters were able to secure housing in August 2016, just four days after she started a job as a housing coordinator at Self Enhancement Inc. Now, drawing from her personal experience, she is able to help others obtain the services and housing they need to remain happy and healthy.
Click here to watch footage from “Keeping Portland Housed and Healthy.”
Hosted by the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, “Public Health Portland Style” is a monthly series of community forums designed to discuss key issues that affect residents of Oregon and Southwest Washington. The next session, focused on veterans’ health and PTSD, will take place Thursday, Aug. 17, at the Lucky Lab on N.W. Quimby in Portland.