The amount of shelter space set aside for homeless women in Portland may soon triple for the rest of the winter.
City Council is expected to pass an ordinance today, Jan. 2 that will allocate $338,043 to a nonprofit to keep running a new winter shelter.
Good news? Yes. But it's tempered by the fact that tripling the number of spaces equates to creating only 60 new spots—an increase in city capacity from 30 to 90 beds.
The nonprofit Transition Projects has been spending $40,000 a month since Nov. 20 to operate the winter women's shelter on the second floor of a former Ramada Inn near the Rose Quarter. Demand has been so great for the women-only shelter that spaces filled immediately. And Chrissy Robinson, Transition Projects' winter housing coordinator, says her program still fields five to 20 calls a day from women seeking shelter, although the facility is full.
"I've been raped, beaten up and had bottles and bricks thrown at me," says 42-year-old Linda Jackson, one of the women in the shelter. "To be here is a blessing."
Winter homeless shelters provide lodging from Nov. 1 through March 31. After that, people must return to the streets unless they make arrangements to enter into transitional housing.
The Ramada shelter site is temporary and will be used only this year. The city Bureau of Housing and Community Development is looking into finding a permanent site, pending new funding from City Council.
The shelter is what's known as a "low-barrier" facility, meaning residents aren't required to meet certain guidelines, such as being drug-free and they don't have to participate in case management. Transition Projects typically requires participants to meet such requirements, but it isn't doing so in this case, because of the huge need to get women off the street.
The result: shelter to women who have problems with mental health and drug addiction, and who "aren't necessarily ready for case management," says Fern Elledge, Transition Projects' human resource and community service center director.
"It's an interesting experiment for us," Elledge says. "What was important was getting people out of the cold, and off the street."
Until now, the city had winter shelter for only 30 homeless women, compared with 158 spaces for men.
"There never has been a strong winter shelter program for homeless women," says Heather Lyons, homeless program manager at the Bureau of Housing and Community Development. Despite the fact that homeless women are more vulnerable and more likely to be abused, that discrepancy exists because men make up a greater share of the homeless.
Lyons says planning has begun to avert forcing women back onto the streets after March 31. Part of that plan includes providing them access to case management work, housing referrals and assistance.
"Our hope is to connect the winter shelter with programs that do work to end people's homelessness," Lyons says.
There are an estimated 2,000-plus homeless people on any night in Portland. About one-third—or 32 percent—are women.