Who are today’s homeless?

Home Building News – March 2008

By Mel Tashima Duncan, Home Builders Foundation Director

This year, the Home Builders Foundation is working to renovate and expand two Portland-area shelters.  As an HBA member, you’ve probably heard about our HomeAid Projects: Raphael House of Portland and Cordero House.

Perhaps too often, we’ve focused on telling members what we need to get the job done – money, expertise, labor and materials to increase bed space and service capacity for area shelters. But when we talk about “our work”, the terminology can often obscure our mission.  Many people have no frame of reference or mental picture to associate with “shelter development” and the need to increase “bed space” or “service capacity” for Portland-area homeless shelters.

These are sterile terms for what are often heart-wrenching stories. The word “homelessness” evokes different meanings for different people. We hear stories of neglected and abused children, with no safe haven or hope, or stories of unwed mothers who just need a little direction and extra support to be self sufficient.  These are the faces of homelessness. Some would be surprised to know that the people we strive to serve, the homeless who need bed space and shelter, are your office mates, neighbors or friends.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) reports that as many as 800,000 people are homeless on any night in the United States, and between up to 3.5 million people experience homelessness during the course of a year.

If that sounds like a lot of people, it’s because most of the homeless are on the street only temporarily. Research indicates that 81 percent of homeless people will enter and exit a shelter quickly, and not return for a prolonged period of time or never return. This population of temporarily (or transitionally) homeless individuals and families have experienced a life-altering event that drove them to homelessness.

“Life altering events”

In a 2006 national report, the Council of Mayors listed – in order of frequency – the following causes of homelessness identified by cities around the country: mental illness and the lack of needed services, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse and the lack of needed services, low-paying jobs, escaping domestic violence, prisoner re-entry, unemployment, and poverty.

The Foundation’s Role
While there are many charities to deal with so many kinds of homelessness, the Home Builders Foundation commits its time, energy and resources to help individuals and families in need of a dignified place to call home while they rebuild their lives. Our approach is focused. Our leaders and supporters use their industry expertise, network, and personal resources to build shelter through donations of labor and materials.  No other group is so uniquely positioned and qualified to provide these kinds of services and meet the needs of the temporarily homeless population.

The following is a list of the top constituencies we serve:
•    Victims of domestic violence
•    Abused women and children
•    At-risk teens with no place to go
•    Women in crisis pregnancies and newborns
•    Young adults who have aged-out of the foster care system
•    Mentally disabled persons
•    People coping with debilitating medical conditions and/or the costs of treatment
•    Pregnant teens, and teen mothers and their babies
•    Victims of job loss, divorce, or desertion
•    Those affected by natural disasters and other catastrophes

These life altering events can happen to anyone, and are not limited by demographics, race, or socio-economic status. The Foundation, through HomeAid Portland, helps to build or renovate shelter for these situations, these individuals, these families. This is how we help. Please remember, homelessness is not a choice. It’s not an identity. It is not a failure to work. It is simply a circumstance… and it is ongoing and growing. When you choose to help the Home Builders Foundation, you’re taking a stand and helping us make Portland a better place for everyone to live.