As Portland's winter shelters closed April 1 for the season, one of them felt successful because it placed more than one in five of its women clients into permanent housing.
Last fall, the city of Portland spent $338,043 creating the only women's winter shelter in town, a former Ramada Inn near the Rose Quarter with space for 60 women (see "Shelter from the Storm," WW, Jan. 2, 2008).
Because some women didn't stay the entire winter, the shelter operated by the nonprofit Transition Projects Inc. served a total of 172 women between Nov. 1 and April 1. Of those women, 37 (or 21.5 percent) moved into permanent housing, according to Liora Berry, program coordinator at the city's Bureau of Community Housing and Development.
Another four women entered residential treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, seven moved into transitional housing, and seven now live with family or friends. That adds up to a total of 32 percent entering into stable housing.
The bureau didn't set a goal for how many women it aimed to move into permanent or stable housing. But Berry says the achievements are noteworthy. And Terrell Curtis, executive director of a 50-bed women's shelter in Denver, agrees. "Given how complex the housing process is, I would consider that [32 percent] a success," Curtis says.
Debbie, who asked that her last name not be used because of concerns about past domestic violence, was one of the local women fortunate enough to find permanent housing. She and her sister now live in an apartment.
"We worried about it a lot," says Debbie, 53.
Fern Elledge, Transition Projects' community service director, and Berry both attribute the Ramada shelter's success to the services it provided.
The typical winter shelter, Berry says, provides only a place to sleep at night, lacks any additional services and requires residents to be free of drug and alcohol addiction.
Women admitted to the Ramada shelter were guaranteed a spot for the rest of the winter. The shelter also provided optional access to case management and other services to help the women find permanent housing.
In addition, the Ramada shelter allowed women with drug and alcohol addictions to live there, provided they did not use on site. The result, says Elledge, was a population of women living closer to the edge.
"There were people who weren't able to live with the rules of not having alcohol or paraphernalia with them," Elledge says.
"It has surprised me how many people have come and gone," says Caryn Porter, a staffer at the shelter. "People have disappeared."
Elledge says Transition Projects will continue to work with the women and help them find placement now that the winter shelter is closed. (Since the housing bureau's lease with the Ramada has expired, a search for a different location has also begun for next winter.)
"It's scary," says one 57-year-old homeless woman of the prospect of being back out on the street.
"I know something's going to happen positive," said the woman, who also asked to remain anonymous because of recent problems with domestic violence. "Hopefully, by the grace of God."