Churches in North Portland have teamed up to open transitional housing and a tutoring center for homeless women and their children.
"It's for people who really want to change their lives," says Linda Jo Devlaeminck, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Vancouver, Wash., who is directing the project, called Community of Hope. The ministry is located on the lower floor of Red Sea Community Church, just north of the St. Johns business district.
Portland Public Schools has identified more than 150 families in North Portland that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Since a shelter at a local Methodist Church closed about a decade ago, families in crisis have had to travel to downtown Portland or the east part of Multnomah County to receive help, leaving friendships and schools behind.
The shelter, sustained by donations, is being organized by AllOne Community Services, an organization formed by church leaders in the area to promote cooperative ministry.
"The collaborative Church of North Portland has been praying, planning, and working on this effort for some time, and it's very exciting to see it come to fruition," says David Brewer, executive director of AllOne Community Services. "We want to see these families restored to wholeness and using their gifts and skills for the benefit of themselves and the community."
The plan is to host families for four to six months, offering support and training while they secure employment and obtain housing. Courses offered include budget management, resume writing, job interview preparation, cooking and nutrition.
Another class will teach people to become responsible renters and overcome obstacles to renting — like a criminal record — with a certificate to show prospective landlords. Northwest Family Services will offer classes on parenting, relationships and career readiness. FamilyWorks!, a Christian organization, will pair mentors with children living at the shelter and a scripture class will help residents overcome the wounds — physical and emotional — of being homeless.
Devlaeminck, after her homeschooled children moved out, went through soul searching and realized it was time to follow her dream. That merged with a decision by pastors in North Portland to do something about housing in the area, a blue-collar neighborhood.
"A big thing is healing from the trauma of homelessness," says Devlaeminck. "We can only begin that. But we want to help families overcome obstacles to providing a stable home. It is very hard to provide for your kids when you are stressed."
The Red Sea location is on a six-month lease that can be renewed. To make the site permanent transitional housing, it would need fire suppression sprinklers, an expense the fledgling project could not afford. Devlaeminck would like to expand to a larger space or an additional building so men could be welcomed, too.
So far, neighbors have not lodged complaints. There is room for four families. One has already moved in. The housing is open only at night, with a daytime gathering space, kitchen and classrooms located across the street in a former youth ministry house. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden.
Devlaeminck could not bring herself to lock up in the morning during the recent cold and snow. So she allowed the family to stay and worked around the clock.
"We have a huge need for volunteers," she says. The project is also seeking cash donations so it can hire overnight staff.
Almost 100 volunteers have signed on.
Meridee Kaiel, a member of Holy Cross Parish, is leading up her congregation's effort to provide meals one week per month. She also is seeking cooks willing to mentor women in the shelter.
"It takes a team effort," Kaiel says of the entire project.
She has been inspired by the Salem-area ministry founded by the late Msgr. Charles Taaffe, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland. The Father Taaffe homes, now operated by Catholic Community Services, help desperate pregnant women, mothers and their babies.
Kaiel, who has lived in North Portland her entire life, says she has noticed increased poverty and homelessness in the area.
"This is important to me," says Dan Kabele, a member of Holy Cross Parish and, like Devlaeminck, a member of the ecumenical People of Praise community. "It has some real meat on the bones, serving people who are underprivileged right in our area."
Kabele considers it an advantage that the housing effort is faith-based.
"That the local church is doing this together adds to my excitement and my confidence that people will be taken care of," he says.
Kabele hopes that, in the end, guests get themselves settled, but also hopes they always remember "someone treated them with love with no strings attached."
To learn more and to help, go to www.communityofhopepdx.org.