Jessica shares her story of moving from a tent to an apartment with Housing Multnomah Now

September 12, 2023

Just a few months ago, Jessica was in a position she never thought she’d be in: homeless and living in a tent under a steel bridge.

“I grew up very well,” she said. “I never thought I would be that person walking downtown, not knowing where to go or living in a tent.

But after receiving services through the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ Multnomah Housing Now pilot program, Jessica is living in a one-bedroom apartment and working to get back on her feet.

She is one of 17 people housed so far through the program. The goal of the program is to develop and improve strategies for moving unsheltered people from tents to apartments – providing intensive outreach, on-site case management and housing mobility in high-impact camp sites, as well as access to shelter for those who may need a temporary move while they work to Their housing plan.

Longtime homeless services provider Transition Projects was contracted by the joint office to implement the program, and played a key role in designing and running the pilot. Transition project workers have been on site at the Steel Bridge campsite in northwest Portland for several months. First, workers conducted a survey of about 150 people living on site, then began offering case management and housing services to a smaller group. In addition to the 17 people sheltered so far, an additional 16 people have been assisted in shelters, including nine at the City of Portland’s first temporary alternative shelter site in Southeast Portland.

The project is ramping up work at the Steel Bridge campsite, and will soon be implemented at a campsite in the Eastern Province.

Jessica said she believes in the model. What was so effective, she said, was the fact that case managers were on site every day of the week, meeting people where they were to support them on their way to housing.

“I definitely think it works. It works more than any other program I’ve ever tried,” she said. “They helped me with anything I needed.”

Becoming homeless after a few years was particularly difficult. When COVID-19 hit, she was working as a massage therapist and had recently started a construction company. Both areas of business have been hit hard by the pandemic.

“It then started a downward spiral,” Jessica said.

By December 2022, her apartment lease was up, and she knew she couldn’t afford the rent anymore. She moved out voluntarily to avoid eviction on her record.

She tried to get help several times, saying she got “slipped” about housing. That changed when she started the Multnomah Housing Foundation now at the Steele Bridge campground where she used to live. Within days of Transition Projects starting its work there, it had a case manager Who guided her through the process of obtaining housing.

One of the goals of Housing Multnomah Now is to help people recognize and overcome barriers that may prevent them from obtaining housing or accessing services.

“I don’t have any criminal background, but they had my credit history and found that I had two things that didn’t even belong to me, and those were the barriers to me getting an apartment,” Jessica said.

It turns out her credit history showed an unpaid electric bill and a home eviction, neither of which were hers. Transition Projects worked with her to begin the process of wiping that data from her credit history.

A few weeks later, Jessica signed the lease for her apartment in July. “The process was very quick,” she said. “When I found out I had a place, I couldn’t believe it, it was like I had just won this amazing award or something.

Now that she’s settled into her new home, Jessica said she appreciates some of the things she took for granted before she became homeless.

“I was excited to cook a meal for the first time after being homeless and living in a tent for a while. I was really excited to take a shower,” she said. “You take these things for granted a lot.”

The only thing that is important to her is the independence of her new home. “I got into relationships one after another, with people I had never had a relationship with before,” she said. “And this is my home now. All my previous homes were with someone else. It’s a really big accomplishment because I’m learning to live on my own.”

She is taking this opportunity to get back on her feet. “I have a place to put my bearings and make things right,” she said. Her goal is to have, by next July, a source of income that will allow her to pay her rent. (As part of the Multnomah Housing Now program, her rent is covered for a year.)

Even though she recently moved, she works every day to achieve this goal. “The year comes so fast,” she said.

To get there, she did one thing every day that would get her closer to that goal, and recorded it in her journal.

“It doesn’t have to be two things. Just one thing contributes to reaching that goal,” she said. That includes learning a new skill online, updating her resume, or finding job interview tips.

“I know there are probably some people who wouldn’t agree to help people with housing, because they go to work every day, and they do their part,” she said. “But some of us — I lost my job during the pandemic. I just need a boost. I hope that when I work, which I will in a year, I will be able to give back as well.

Video: Jessica’s story

Video about Multnomah Housing Now: Jessica’s Story

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