April 13, 2020

Helping in Times of Coronavirus: Portland Homeless Family Solutions

COVID-19 has torn through our world over the past weeks, disrupting lives, putting the health of our family and friends at risk, and destabilizing the local community which we hold so dear. We are all coping in the best way we know how, as daily stories of resilience and ingenuity inspire us to keep pushing onward. In a new series of blog posts, I am highlighting some amazing stories of resiliency and dedication in Portland’s non-profit sector — stories of organizations and community members who are fighting to serve our most vulnerable populations.

This week I spoke with Portland Homeless Family Solutions (PHFS), an organization that works to empower homeless families with children to get back into housing and to stay there long-term. PHFS is a front-line organization in the fight against homelessness in our community. Its work is focused in three key areas: (1) operating a brand-new 25-family shelter, Oregon’s first shelter designed using trauma-informed architecture; (2) homelessness prevention programs to help families who are living paycheck to paycheck stay in housing; and (3) a rapid rehousing program for families that are currently homeless or have just been set up in housing.

Family Village, PHFS’ New Shelter

The communities PHFS serves have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and the organization has stepped up to meet these expanded needs. In PHFS’ new Family Village shelter, this means keeping families safe by implementing social distancing, hiring professional cleaners, halting direct volunteer programs, and increasing the pay of front-line shelter staff to thank them for their hard work in the absence of volunteer support.

In PHFS’ prevention program, they are committing to expanding the number of families served every month of the COVID-19 crisis. This crisis has the potential to significantly increase the number of homeless families in our community, as people living paycheck-to-paycheck are laid off or forced to quit jobs due to lack of childcare. Although Oregon placed a moratorium on evictions for six months, PHFS is staying proactive and focused on keeping families from incurring large rent back payments that they won’t be able to pay, supporting them now to secure their future. This prevention program presents a remarkable return on investment for PHFS and our community at large, as it costs an average of $1,400 to keep a family in housing versus an average of $10,000 to shelter and $7,000 to rehouse families.

For the families PHFS serves in its rapid rehousing program, the primary focus is on keeping families at home by providing a safe place to sleep and the cooking and food supplies needed to stay healthy. Even for those of us that are secure, grocery shopping has become a fraught experience. Now imagine trying to shop online for over 55 families! PHFS is providing an invaluable service to our community by coordinating donations, online orders, and volunteers to ensure that families all over Portland metro are getting a weekly box of food via contactless delivery.

These services are not without extra costs. PHFS is contending with unbudgeted costs for masks and gloves, high-quality cleaning solution, professional cleaning crews, incentive pay for front-line staff, and significantly increased food costs. These are key areas where your support is needed and your donation can have a huge, immediate impact within our community.

Emma Hoyle, PHFS’ Development Director, shared her own experience of resiliency in our community: “The most incredible thing has been how amazing parents are. Experiencing homelessness is one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences that happens in people’s lives. Now we are putting a global pandemic — this huge collective stress — on top of the extremely traumatic state of being homeless. Parents are navigating homeschooling from shelter bedrooms…it’s inspiring to see that love and to see kids get through this. But it’s hard to see kids not being able to play with each other. And it’s hard to know how safe I feel when I’m in my own home and to know that these families don’t have that same feeling of safety and security.”

You can learn more about Portland Homeless Family Solutions’ response to the COVID-19 crisis and donate directly to assist their relief efforts at http://www.pdxhfs.org/covid-19.