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Transitional housing program aims to help incarcerated women of color in Gresham

Multnomah County hosted an opening celebration for the Diane Wade House, a transitional housing program for incarcerated women of color, on Wednesday morning, April 10.

Several county officials were present for the event, at the building that was once home to a dialysis clinic.

Chair Deborah Kafoury said dedication of the housing program at 100 S.E. Cleveland St., was an important step forward for women striving to put their lives back together after being released from incarceration.

"This is one of the most important projects that I've ever had the honor to be a part of," Kafoury said. "Women, especially black women, have not been given the same opportunities to reclaim their lives."

Kafoury said when designing the Gresham transitional housing program, they focused on ways to connect women with the appropriate social programs. COURTESY PHOTO: MULTNOMAH COUNTY  - Journey Ioane cuts the ribbon to celebrate the opening of Diane Wade House on Wednesday, April 10.  Also pictured are Erika Preuitt, ONesha Cochran, Alexandria Ioane, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Abbey Stamp.

"Our justice system requires people to serve time in jail and in prison as a consequence for the crimes — but unless there are the right resources to come out like transitional housing, behavioral health treatment, workforce training, and culturally responsive services — then we shouldn't be surprised when people end up right back in those justice systems," Kafoury said.

Transitional programs have shown success, but women, and especially black women, have not benefited as highly from those transitional programs, she said.

"That's because for too long, people in power said 'here's what you need,' rather than asking 'what do you need?'" Kafoury said. "Because when we finally had the humility to ask what women needed leaving jail, the result was this: This program and this house you're about to see."

The home is named after Diane Wade, who was a Multnomah County parole and probation officer, and a leader in the African American community. She died in 2010.

The Diane Wade House will serve adult women involved in the Multnomah County criminal justice system, according to a press release from the county. The home will provide gender specific, trauma-informed and Afrocentric services including mentoring, case management and life-skills instruction.

The home can serve up to 38 justice-involved women. Residents will be referred by the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice and Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services. The first residents are expected to move in by the end of April.

The county is partnering with Bridges to Change to operate the program. Bridges to Change is a nonprofit organization that helps families affected by addiction, mental health, poverty and homelessness.

Diane Wade House Program Manager O'Nesha Cochran met Wade when Cochran was incarcerated at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. Cochran said at the house's opening, that meeting Wade changed her life, inspiring her to get sober and turn her life around.

She plans to use what Wade taught her to help other African American women.

"What I remember about Diane Wade is that she came into the penitentiary when we had nothing to give her," Cochran said. "She came in the penitentiary when we were locked up. We were deemed incapable to be in society because our behavior was dangerous, and she still came to see us."

Wade always had a hopeful message. She saw an inmate's bad behavior, but still found a way to take that conduct and transform it into usable skills.

"'You sell dope? Oh, you're a good customer service rep,'" Cochran recalled Wade saying. "'You've prostituted before? You get along well with people. You were a gang banger? Oh, you know how to navigate difficult situations.'"

Wade's daughter, Alexandria Ioane, said the transitional housing program will help her mother's legacy live on.

"Having a house that embodies that, that is able to do that for other women, is absolutely amazing," Ioane said. "When you got to that finish line, she was there to say, 'Good job.'"

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