Homeless shelter program awarded $120,000 grant from Forest Grove
After several years operating solely as a seasonal resource, the winter shelter program in Forest Grove and Cornelius is getting a funding boost that will allow shelter officials to work year-round.
Members of Forest Grove's Community Enhancement Program committee recently awarded the program a three-year $120,000 grant to support what city and shelter officials say are increasingly needed services for people experiencing homelessness.
Celeste Goulding, director of the shelter program, said the funding won't go toward keeping the shelter open year-round. Instead, the grant will allow Goulding and new staff to provide "wrap-around" services, such as mental health and addicting support and housing resources, for unhoused people year-round.
Goulding said providing such year-round support is critical to making meaningful progress toward getting people off the streets and into housing with access to essential services.
"We need to have the consistent presence in the community to be able to build relationships to actually move people out of homelessness and into stability, which just takes longer than three months or four months, and sometimes it takes longer than 12 or 24 months," Goulding said.
The shelter has been operating two nights per week at the United Church of Christ in Forest Grove from fall to spring for several years. This year was the second year the program operated a shelter two nights per week at Emanuel Lutheran Church in Cornelius, too.
Goulding said the shelters rely on dedicated local volunteers and Pacific University students in work-study programs to provide meals and staff shelter facilities overnight. When enough volunteers are available, Goulding has the time to provide case management and direct guests to resources that will help their long-term stability.
But volunteer numbers often decrease during a season, as they did this year, and Goulding needs to shift away from providing long-term stability support to staff the shelter, she said.
The grant will allow the program to hire outreach workers. Along with Goulding, they will provide supportive services year-round without interruption, she said.
"Being able to have consistent employees, not letting people just disappear back into the void every summer when we lose contact with them after the shelter closes" will allow the program to make a tangible difference in people's lives, Goulding said.
Year-round services will also allow the program to collect more data on how homelessness affects people in rural areas such as western Washington County, Goulding said.
"There's a lot of data on rural homelessness that has gone uncollected forever because of capacity issues," she said, adding that the model for collecting data on homelessness is based on urban environments.
"They're much more visible" in urban places, Goulding said of the homeless population. In rural areas, she added, "suddenly they become much less visible. They're tucked into woods, they're out on different people's properties, camping on farmlands. There are also often less centralized meal programs. We have an opportunity to start filling that gap by having outreach workers on the ground."
The funding will also allow the program to make connections with populations of unhoused people who have historically been unable to readily access support.
"We know the Latinx population is experiencing housing insecurity at high levels, but we don't really have any idea how that is playing out for those populations," Goulding said. "For someone who's new to the United States or is second-generation, nobody has introduced them to social services — maybe they don't know how to be looking for help."
As part of a separate recent grant from Forest Grove, Goulding has already hired a Spanish-speaking outreach worker, whom she hopes to keep long-term under the three-year grant.
"We knew we had to do something about this houseless issue," said Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax.
Truax, Forest Grove city councilors and Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González constitute the Community Enhancement Program committee.
"We felt that was where the money could best directly serve an impacted population, and by extension, the people of the city of Forest Grove," Truax said.
Metro funds the program in Forest Grove and other cities using money collected from solid waste transfer station fees. This is the first year of a pilot program for three-year grants.
Truax said hopes the funding will allow the shelter program to expand further, "using it as a nest egg to turn it into even more money to make shelter be more efficient and be able to do more."
Goulding said she plans to begin seeking applicants to serve on a shelter board of directors.
She said that outreach and other efforts to plan how exactly the three-year grant will be implemented have been stifled by ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.
The shelter program had to end its season early on March 16 due to the coronavirus, and Goulding said she has been largely occupied with planning how the shelters might be able to open safely this coming winter.
"It cannot be assumed that the churches we host in are going be able to re-open their doors to us," she said.
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