Last month, the Memo met with State of Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) personnel for an interview and tour of the new East County Family Services facility at 11826 N.E. Glisan St.—the former Target store—that’s been open barely three weeks at press time.
The new space provides child welfare and self-sufficiency services for most of east Portland, as the older Southeast 122nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard, the 1415 S.E. 122nd Ave. and the Gresham facilities have each moved all or some of their operations to the new consolidated facility, the biggest in Multnomah County.
The new facility impresses with its client friendliness and professional look and feel. As Multnomah County Director René DuBoise told the Memo, the way the facility looks and feels “makes this an inviting place to come to, to find support for families … in an environment that respects you.” DuBoise modestly praised the new facility and the nearly flawless (save for a fixable fiber optics glitch) move-in accomplished barely a week later than originally scheduled.
It is a professional-looking, spacious build-out; the at-capacity occupation by DHS is under a 15-year lease of the 117,279-square-foot space formerly occupied by a Target store (“Department of Human Services targets Hazelwood” MCM April 2016; “Date set for Department of Human Services occupation of HQ space” MCM July 22, 2016). DuBoise admits the lobby is spare and still being further furnished. The new facility is a one-stop shop for the convenience of those in need of assistance, said DuBoise, so that people “don’t have to travel elsewhere.” And the focus of the services provided by DHS at this and other facilities is culturally and demographically oriented to east Portland’s diverse populace. Access to the new facility for those living as far away as Gresham has been improved by expanded TriMet bus service, according to DHS employee Tou N. Cha.
Using an app affectionately called CAPI (Client Application Processing Interface), banks of online computers are available for clients to apply for food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and cash benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
The new facility includes hundreds of numbered eight-foot-square cubbies, dozens of interview rooms, multiple training conference rooms, outdoor employee bike racks and covered picnic tables, property storage rooms and showers and changing areas for kids, a kid-oriented covered outdoor playground with a private and secure side entrance/exit (to protect kids’ privacy in very emotional separations from noncustodial parents, in an example that Karen Lenore, senior DHS employee training manager, describes as “trauma-informed care”), life- and interview-skills classrooms, a staff lunchroom (but no cafeteria) and a visitor lunchroom facing Glisan Street. There is card-entry security in most staff areas and in all visitor areas where kids might be found.
The new facility is so big, joked 15-year DHS employee and facilities manager Paul Mills, that employees have requested a DHS navigation app for their GPS-equipped smartphones. One long hallway has already been dubbed the bowling alley by workers, while another is called exercise hall.
More than 300 people work at the large facility, including community partners such as Community Works Project, Workforce System Partnership, Embrace Oregon, Portland Community College and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). There are flat-screen monitors in the interview rooms to accommodate audiovisual interaction between kids and their extended family members who, for whatever reason, cannot attend in person (e.g., grandparents who live out of state or fathers who are in custody). The focus of DHS’s work is providing financial assistance to needy families (SNAP and TANF) and helping them to get back on their feet and getting kids safely back to their families or safely placed with foster parents. There is a permanent fleet of nearly 50 cars in the huge landscaped parking lot for staffers to drive kids to the new headquarters to assess their needs, counsel them or allow them to meet potential foster parents.
How does DHS like its new neighbors, and is the feeling mutual?
DuBoise said she is very comfortable with Safeway next door as a stable and respectable anchor neighbor. And DHS sent welcome packages to local businesses, added DuBoise.
During the tour, identical small gift bags were seen on a cart in a hallway. Evidently, a couple of new neighbors across Glisan Street—spearheaded by neighborhood dentist David Dowsett of Complete Health Dentistry at 11765 N.E. Glisan St.—pitched in to create gift bags for each DHS employee. The bags contain, among other things, an odd pairing of toothbrushes and sugar cookies. Dowsett’s office manager, Kym Merrick, confirmed that Complete Health Dentistry and the nearby Portland Florist Shop worked together on the gift bag idea to promote their businesses to their new neighbors. She said the dentistry at press deadline had not made any new clients from its DHS promotional efforts, but they will wait and see how things work out with their new neighbor.
And Lorie Carroll, manager of Menlo Park Liquor Store, DHS’ next door neighbor, said there is increased foot traffic in front of her store and DHS employee purchases inside the store.
As the DHS facility tour ended—and while we stood in the open, clean lobby bubbling with fussing babies, toddlers and parents seated comfortably in all-new furnishings—Lenore said DuBoise is too modest: “René had a real vision for this place.”
Contact DuBoise at RENE.L.DUBOISE@dhsoha.state.or.us, or call her at 503-780-1795.