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Eastminster gives homeless families warming shelter


Without the new warming center at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Rosa Kramer and her seven children would be out on the street, homeless. Kramer poses with six of her children before bedtime at the warming center. Two-year-old Scott and three-year-old Gabriella are in front. Behind them are siblings four-year-old Lucia, six-year-old Gregory and seven-year-old Joseph. Standing next to Mom is eight-year-old Mary. With help from Human Solutions, Kramer has recently found a more permanent solution for her family.
Rev. Brian Herron speaks at the dedication of the new warming center at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, 12505 N.E. Halsey St. Other dignitaries at the event are, from left, Rev. Chuck Currie, Human Solutions Executive Director Jean DeMaster, Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, representing Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, Allyson Spencer, Multnomah County Commissioner Barbara Willer and Portland Housing Bureau Director Margaret Van Vliet.
Rosa Kramer talks to her oldest, ten-year-old Joshua, while four-year-old Lucia mugs for the camera.
When Human Solutions moved their homeless Family Warming Center from the JOIN building to Eastminster Presbyterian Church, they found they gained not only more useable space, but a supportive community.

The non-profit began running the evening shelter for homeless families at the church, 12505 N.E. Halsey St., on Nov. 1, and will do so nightly until March 31. It is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to single adults or couples who are guardians of one or more children 17 years old or younger, or to women who are seven months pregnant or more. According to shelter manager Amie Diffenauer, the shelter is low barrier; those who come need not undergo case management, as some shelters require, and people can even show up drunk, although they cannot use alcohol or drugs on premises. At minimum, those who come receive a cot or mat and bedding. In mid-November, the largest number of people who had sought shelter on a given night was 27. The maximum capacity is 60.

Last year, its first providing this service, the shelter was at the new JOIN headquarters on Northeast 81st Avenue at Halsey Street. Because of new demands and uses for the space, it was not available this year. According to Human Solutions Executive Director Jean DeMaster, as of August the non-profit had nowhere to move this program.

Fortunately, their needs fit the needs and mission of Eastminster.

As Pastor Brian Heron told the Memo, the church had fallen on hard times; at one point, its congregation declined from a high of 450 members to just 40, and those who remained seriously discussed shutting down. Instead, they looked for ways to be more relevant to the community. What they had was excess space, five classrooms that were used only two days a week, and two acres of empty land. Heron served with DeMaster on the East Portland Action Plan effort, and heard of her plight. “It seemed like a natural partnership - they had a need and we had space,” he says. “The logistics fell into place fairly easily.”

“It's been a really positive experience,” DeMaster told the Memo. “Instead of the one big room we had at JOIN, we had five smaller rooms.” This allows them to separate the youngest children from the oldest ones, which is often not a good fit. However, the physical facilities were the least of the benefits.

“It was a very different dynamic” from last year, Diffenauer, says. “Instead of just renting space, there was a partnership and community-building.”

“It was wonderful watching the congregation rise to serve a purpose,” Heron says. “They weren't necessarily doing it in great numbers, but the energy was rising. We were serving families again, although not in the way we had been.”

Nor was it limited to the congregation. “Eastminster has a lot of partnerships in the community,” Diffenauer says. Through them the call has gone out to, and been answered by, the Argay, Parkrose, Parkrose Heights and Hazelwood Neighborhood Associations, among others. Volunteers have contributed supplies, hot meals and their time, especially helping care for the children. One family took it upon themselves to launder the bed linens, she says.

The same families do not necessarily stay all winter at this shelter. During the day, many make use Human Solutions' Daybreak Shelter at Southeast 127th Avenue and Market Street. As personal needs arise, they may use other shelters such as those at the First Unitarian Church downtown, First Methodist Church in Goose Hollow, and the Sunnyside Methodist Church in inner Southeast. And some manage to move into something better.

There are many different kinds of people in the broad category of “the homeless,” and as many stereotypes about them. “These aren't the people you see standing on the freeway on-ramps,” Heron says. “They've been sleeping in cars, or going from couch to couch among friends. They try to stay out of sight because they're afraid of having their children taken away by the Department of Human Services. They've been through hard times and they're trying to get back on their feet again.”

“Many of the single people and couples have been on the street for a long time,” DeMaster says. “These families aren't used to it, and they want to get off the street as fast as possible. We work hard to get them into a safer place, and then a safer place than that.”

“This is a partnership of the city, county, Human Solutions, the faith community and the larger community,” Heron says. “Instead of being territorial, we're all working together.”

A case in point is Rosa Kramer, a single mother with seven children. “It's a blessing,” Kramer said of the warming center, “I've been a nurse for twenty years, and we lost our - my husband came back from Iraq, had some problems and so we lost our house. Without it (Eastminster warming center) we'd be sleeping in the streets, with seven children.”

“When we had to leave our house it was late, cold, we had no food. It was such a blessing to have this. They're very nice, wonderful staff. They don't shame you; they don't ask a lot of questions. Which is nice. They respect your privacy.” Ten-tear-old Joshua Kramer added, “As Mom said, it's a blessing it's awesome. I'm glad we found this place without we'd be sleeping on the street.”

Human Solutions personnel say that while they cannot reveal her current whereabouts without her permission, Kramer and her family now have four walls to call their own 24 hours a day.

What can you do to help? According to Diffenauer, blankets, bedding and pajamas - in all sizes - are always needed. So are pillows, in good condition. Clothes, especially warm coats, scarves and gloves, are useful, but the warming center should not be seen as an alternative to a dumpster for clothing too ragged to wear. Food, especially prepared hot dishes, is very welcome, but you should call the shelter first at 503-256-2280 before coming over. The church has limited storage space and only a small refrigerator. Warm food donations should be coordinated to arrive on nights when there is nothing to eat rather than an abundance of it. What are especially helpful are volunteers ready to work, run errands, and tend and play with the children. “At night the children have a lot of energy, and their parents need time to rest,” DeMaster says.

Meanwhile, Eastminster has created a Site Development Council that is looking at long-term use for the church's land and resources. “We hope the Warming Shelter will be part of their long-term plans, DeMaster says.
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