Hi. I’m Bill Boyd, and I’ve worked at JOIN in Portland, OR since 2004. Currently my role is part time retention worker and part time Housing Coordinator. Over my time at JOIN, I’ve done several roles, including outreach, intern supervisor, and data management. As part of this panel, I’m going to talk to you about our street outreach work to people experiencing homelessness in Portland, who we often refer to as campers.
JOIN was founded in 1992 and originally acted as an education and advocacy organization. The work grew out of our relationships with people on the streets and hearing their stories of feeling both alienated from society and feeling that the help being offered to them was not the support they wanted or needed. As time went on and these relationships developed, it became clear that we could provide services in a manner that met these expressed needs. Our first outreach worker was hired in 1998, and since then we have supported over 6000 placements into permanent housing. JOIN works with anyone literally sleeping outside or in a car, and approximately 46% of these placements last year were people meeting the definition of chronically homeless.
While I’m going to mostly discuss our outreach work, JOIN has 4 main program components. In addition to outreach, we provide what we call retention and community building support for recently housed people. Our basic services center is a low barrier drop in for anyone who wants to access available services through a barter exchange where individuals give time to the community in exchange for these services, like showers, storage, laundry, internet access, and so on. We also continue our original experiential learning and education program, operating immersions that provide an opportunity to challenge the stereotypes about homelessness and encourage more involvement in creating change
While planning my comments, one of my co-workers reminded me that our work is not rocket science. All of our work has been based in building supporting and maintaining authentic relationships with homeless campers, and using that relationship as a catalyst for supporting their move quickly and directly into permanent housing. While many programs and models value relationships, we most commonly refer to ours as friendships – relationships that are mutually trusting, honest, and transparent, and not professional. To support this relational approach, we have organizational values that maintain and support a culture and practice built upon being organic, evolving and flexible. The most important principle for me has always been the “relationships not rules” principle, because our work strives to be for the people, and not for the organization or the systemValues & Principles•JOIN always has been and always will be organic—living and evolving—because no one has all the answers.•Organizational simplicity—because responding to the complex issue of homelessness requires flexibility and creativity.•JOIN's philosophy is one of inclusion—restoring connections and rebuilding community—because the experience of being without a home is of one of alienation, degradation, and dehumanization.•Homeless people themselves must be the primary agents of change—because paternalistic approaches are devoid of respect and devalue the strengths of the homeless people upon which long-term stability depends. •Relationships rather than rules—because in the end, it's about the people.
Outreach for us means literally going to where campers are. This includes the bridges, parks, wilderness, fields, caves and other spots where people go to be safe to sleep or hang out. We do not expect people to come to us at our office. Historically we have used the same boundaries that the Portland Police use to divide the city between precincts. The ideal goal is for an outreach worker to know every homeless camper in his or her area. While logistically this is impossible, we aspire to this effort by being a presence in these areas and building a connection with campers. Much of the initial work of an outreach worker is spent getting to know the person, and as one co-worker puts it, shooting the shit, in the effort towards building that friendship. Sometimes outreach workers use an icebreaker to help introduce themselves, like bringing socks or even coffee out to the camps, or help meet some other pressing need, like helping with sleeping bags, blankets, clothes, etc. Each relationship is unique, and takes a different path. Some campers are glad we found them an immediately ready to work towards getting off the streets. Other times, it takes longer to build that trust, but the worker keeps coming back to share, engage and try to be ready if and when the person decides to begin their transition off the streets.
JOIN does not do anything to access a campers ‘readiness’ for move into housing. Instead, we focus on their desire to make the change to get off the streets, and have ready the resources to help them make it happen. The biggest tool we have developed is a pool of open market private landlords that have been willing to work with us and extend some flexibility to a wide variety of situations and background challenges. A significant number of households placed have a source of income, be it disability, employment, unemployment, or some other source. When people have income our support often helps cover the financial barriers at move-in, including deposits, fees, and household furniture and supplies. Over the last several years, we have increased our access to long and short term rent subsidies that help people with zero income get off the streets. These include a number of Shelter Plus Care vouchers administered by the local housing authority, and several funding streams that pass through Portland’s Bureau of Housing. The shorter term subsidies have been mostly used with campers who have a stronger likelihood of getting a job or becoming eligible for disability benefits.
Just as friendships are critical to our work with campers, they are vital to our work with community partners. We depend heavily on a variety of people and institutions in the community to support our work, and I believe they often rely on us as well. Some of these relationships include the police and public safety offers. While not all officers are supportive, a number of neighborhood officers who regularly engage people on the streets know us and work with us at reducing the negative impacts of particular camps, and helping as they can with getting people off the streets. As mentioned before, our relationships with nearly 140 landlords and property management companies provide us a variety of opportunities to find housing. And in return, landlords often find us helpful in mediating any problems or conflicts that may arise, or help in avoiding costly evictions when housing placements are not succeeding. Our local funders have extended us a great deal of flexibility and consideration in structuring the resources we use. Additionally, we have many service providers that want to come on site to our facility to augment our work with critical support. This includes a mobile medical clinic, a worker from the local SNAP or food stamp office, two separate disability benefit acquisition teams and a supportive employment program.
Once a camper makes it into housing, we commit to remain in relationship with them for at least a year. The outreach workers continue their work supporting the person once in housing, and their efforts are benefitted by our team of retention workers. Their job is to help people retain their housing through any means necessary. This can include helping them access various resources, navigate confusing systems, such as medical or disability programs, problem solve with neighbors and landlords. In addition, retention workers help people avoid the isolation that can occur in housing and rebuild a sense of community. We hold a large variety of social events and outings, volunteer opportunities, community gardening and other opportunities. We spend a significant amount of time supporting people who may have a number of challenges or needs. We never mandate people enroll in services to address these challenges, but use the honesty and trust that comes from our relationships to candidly talk to people about how we these challenges impacting their lives, and offer support regardless of the choices a person makes to address or ignore them.
Several other allies support our work for people in housing. These include a number of faith communities that have stepped up to provide friendship based support programs to give people unique opportunities to do things they may not be otherwise able to do. Examples of this include greek cooking lessons, glass blowing classes, hiking trips, and so on. Local businesses have been very generous donating supplies and resources to support these and other activites. We have great friendships with the staff at TAZO Tea and REI, for example, who have been able to provide supplies for various activities. Other opportunities have developed through neighborhood and civic organizations, and school or university groups.
I think it is important to highlight the qualities of my co-workers do engage in this fun yet demanding job every day. Though we have staff with degrees or training in the human services, it is not a requirement for the work. We bring people on board who demonstrate a strong level of commitment to the issue, a high level of integrity, and a personality that can roll with the chaotic and unstructured work environment we’ve created. Once we bring people on board, we do everything we can to keep them with us, including paying them a competitive wage, fully covering their health care premiums and providing longevity incentives such as sabbaticals. We expect and trust that people do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and they are given the freedom and flexibility to make decisions without significant oversight or second guessing. While JOIN is not a collective, we value everyone being involved in decisions of common concern. Our administrative and development team has created an accountability process that is streamlined and simple so staff do not have to spend long hours charting or documenting their efforts. And we expect staff to deliver on the trust they have been granted and remain honest and accountable with each other.
I know this overview is pretty brief, but I hope I can answer any questions people may have about our outreach efforts during the question and answer period. Thanks.
Meeting People Where they are at:Outreach to homeless individuals with high Service Needs JOIN Portland, Oregon
JOIN Snapshot Portland’s leading Street Outreach program - 14 years of experience serving homeless people on the streets of Portland Over 6000 people transitioned off the streets into permanent housing since 1998 46% of all placements this past year met definition of chronically homeless
Program Highlights Street – based outreach Post placement retention support Basic services Experiential Learning
Core of our approach: Relationships Evolution of outreach program Goal: direct placement into permanent housing Program Values: Organic, evolving Simplicity, flexibility and creativity Inclusion, restoring connections People as their own agents of change Relationships, not rules
Outreach Literally go to where people are Divide turf based upon police precinct boundaries Seek to know all campers in one’s area Make a presence, build connections Build friendship, trust
Each Transition is unique The key to successful moves from homelessness The desire by the camper Flexible private market landlords Capacity to financially sustain the transition Income Availability of rent subsidies Long term Short term Potential success with income acquisition Disability benefits employment
Key Allies Relationships equally important with partners Police/public safety Landlords/property management companies Funders Service providers Medical SNAP/DHS Supported employment Benefit specialist
Post Placement Support Commit to one year minimum follow-up Retention workers provide embellished support, encouragement, rebuild community connections Tenant active in determining what, if any, supports are required Relationship is key for addressing challenges
Other Community Allies Churches Local Businesses Neighborhood Associations Schools/Universities
Outreach and Retention Staff Hire personality, integrity and commitment Encourage autonomy, unique approach to the work Support and reward longevity Give freedom, flexibility, and resources Cut bureaucracy, devolve the power Deliver on what you promise
JOINconnecting the street to a home Check out our webpage – www.joinpdx.com Search for us on Facebook – JOIN: connecting the street to a home Visit us in Portland – 1435 NE 81st Avenue Portland, OR 97213 Bill Boyd – Supportive Housing Coordinator 503-232-2031 X222 email@example.com