Former YMCA head takes over at Good Neighbor Center
There's a new executive director at the Good Neighbor Center, and she's a person who already has years of experience working with the area's homeless population and people in need.
Renee Brouse took over from Jack Schwab in June after the former executive director's retirement. A former member of the Sherwood City Council, Brouse worked as the executive director of the Sherwood Regional Family YMCA for 10 years before leaving the organization this past winter.
"Through my years of service with the YMCA, I've been involved heavily with social justice and social responsibility issues, including the homeless issue," Brouse said. "So I'm very passionate about trying to find solutions to that problem that continues to grow."
In her new role running the homeless shelter, which is located at 11130 S.W. Greenburg Road in Tigard, Brouse relies both on her experienced staff — some have been working at the Good Neighbor Center for more than a decade, she noted — and support from the community, both in the form of donations and volunteers.
"The community involvement and support is absolutely amazing. I just am floored every day that I come in here and see how the community has embraced us," Brouse said. "Just yesterday, a mother and her two children came in with some donations, some clothing and some toys and some other things, and the little boy … I think he's 7 years old, somewhere around there, hands us an envelope. And in that envelope is his allowance, $16. And what he says is, 'I just want to help people.' … Those kind of things happen pretty much every day, or in some variation thereof, and it's just absolutely fabulous."
The Good Neighbor Center has nine rooms for residents and space for up to 45 individuals. It also has a communal kitchen, laundry room, living room, playground, clubhouse, and flower and vegetable garden.
Along with providing a temporary shelter for residents — they are allowed to stay for as long as six weeks, sometimes more if there are extenuating circumstances — the Good Neighbor Center also has after-school and summer school programs for children of families staying there, along with classes intended to help adults with financial literary, finding a place to live and more. It also works with community partners to provide occasionally health checkups and even dental clinics.
Brouse said the goal is "to really stabilize them and help them overcome the barriers that led them to their homeless situation."
"If our families go into housing — which is the ultimate goal, is self sufficiency — then we have a self-sufficiency advocate that continues walking alongside that family for a year to make sure that they're doing well," she added.
A resident who spoke with The Times said she is grateful for the services the center has provided her and her two children. Jessica Arnold said she escaped domestic violence but found only limited support in the Eugene area, where she and her children lived. They came to Tigard and have been staying at the Good Neighbor Center since July 12.
"This has been a miracle for us so we can do something with our lives," she said.
The center sets a window each day when residents are expected to leave the shelter for a few hours, during which time they can look for employment and housing opportunities. Arnold said she has been getting help with finding a place to live from the staff at the Good Neighbor Center. Her kids have been able to participate in activities like visiting the Oregon Zoo and going to class while she has been busy with that search.
"It's a very safe environment," Arnold said of the shelter. "It's terrific. I couldn't ask to be in anywhere better place. My kids love it here, too. … We feel safe and just blessed."
Residents of the Good Neighbor Center come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some, like Arnold and her kids, might be homeless after leaving a bad domestic situation. Others might have struggles with mental illness or addiction. Brouse said the center has a "housing-first" philosophy that does not discriminate against people based on their circumstances, although it does have house rules that must be followed — for example, residents are not permitted to use drugs while staying at the shelter. Those rules are difficult for some residents.
"It's very easy to get emotionally involved with the families," said Brouse. "And when a parent makes a poor choice that affects the kids or causes them to leave shelter, that's probably the hardest thing to deal with that I've found so far."
Brouse served on the Sherwood City Council from 2015 to 2017, at the same time she was at the YMCA. She ran and narrowly won in a special election to serve out the remainder of a council term.
"I've always had a love of politics and government in general, so there's always been a part of me that has wanted to go into civic service," Brouse told The Times. Based on her connections in the community there, she added, "I thought that I would have a good voice to represent the community of Sherwood."
Shortly after leaving the council — she did not seek her own four-year term of office last year — Brouse left the YMCA as well.
"It was time for a change," Brouse said simply.
Now at the Good Neighbor Center, Brouse said one of her goals is to expand the outreach the shelter does to the broader community — including Sherwood, as the shelter does not serve only Tigard's homeless population.
The services the Good Neighbor Center provides are dependent upon community support, as well as federal grant dollars. Brouse and her staff are always looking for volunteers and donations — food, hygiene products and anything else that people might need.
To contact the Good Neighbor Center, call 503-443-6084.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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