TRANSITIONING FROM HOMELESSNESS
Lake Oswego Transitional Shelter Ministry helps families get off the street and become self-sufficient
Jacqueline Adans two elementary school-age kids race up to the door of their apartment, pushing each other and laughing, as Adan struggles to keep up.
The 30-year-old single mom just finished her final exams at Clackamas Community College, where shes working toward an associate degree to be a medical laboratory technician. She has long dark hair, delicate features, and is impeccably dressed.
No one would guess that she was homeless just a few months ago.
Adan credits the Lake Oswego Transitional Shelter Ministry (LOTSM) with helping her get back on her feet after a series of mishaps caused her to lose her job and then her apartment. The ministry not only gave her a private living space for six months with no strings attached, but also offered rides, meals and other assistance. She just moved into her own apartment on Dec. 1.
Adan has also made other major changes in her life, from starting her college education to becoming a U.S. citizen. Without the stability of LOTSMs transitional apartment, she says, she would have been too busy scrambling to survive to do any of those things.
The most important part is having a place to live, she says. You dont think about it, but when you dont have a place, there are so many things you cant do. So having a home is just the basis to do anything else.
The Lake Oswego Transitional Shelter Ministry began in 1988 with a coalition of several churches that wanted to do something about homelessness. They converted part of a church into an apartment where families could live for several months to transition from a homeless shelter into their own permanent living arrangement. In 2000, the coalition organized into a nonprofit and used grant money and member donations to construct a second apartment, also on church property.
LOTSM volunteers go above and beyond other similar transitional shelters by providing a variety of services to the residents of the two properties from transportation to school, work or the store to help filling out paperwork and classes on parenting and budgeting.
Cindy Garcia, Adans Clackamas County case worker, says about 180 families are currently on LOTSMs waiting list. That means the two apartments can only help a tiny percentage of the people who need to transition off the street.
But Amy Clark, the ministrys vice president, says the organization functions under a philosophy of quality, not quantity. They may not be able to house hundreds of people, she says, but they want to make sure the families they do serve have every need met and are able to make permanent changes so they dont end up back on the street.
We provide the entire package, Clark says. Its not just giving them stuff. Its teaching them how to be self-sufficient. The biggest part is showing them the human connection and that if they work hard, they can get back on their feet, rather than just saying, Here are some groceries.
Glen Williams, president of the ministrys board, says that until he got involved in LOTSM, he wasnt aware of the amount of work and time it takes to apply and qualify for government assistance. Homeless people must take Rent Well classes before they can get subsidized housing, and it can be difficult to attend classes while living on the street.
LOTSM provides stability, Williams says, so that people can jump through those hoops or save up for a deposit and first and last months rent.
I think the common thread is just about everybody weve had, they want to get out of this, Williams says. These are not homeless people who feel that society owes them a living or owes them a house or anything else. They just got between a rock and a hard place, and (want to know) what they can do to get themselves back on track.
The ministry also provides more intangible assistance, such as listening and being a friend.
Some of these people are pretty beat down, says Williams, so we want to just treat them as human beings. We try not to criticize, we try not to say, Oh, if youd done this differently. We try to provide that support they need as they try to make this move from being homeless into a self-sufficient life.
The families who live in LOTSMs apartments have ended up homeless for a variety of reasons, but what they have in common is that they lack family or other support that can help when a problem happens. Williams says that most middle-class people have someone they could ask for help if they lost a job or had a medical emergency, but these families dont and they can end up on the street due to disability, divorce, job loss or other issues. Some are political refugees and obtain citizenship while living at the shelter.
But Clark and Williams stress that these families did not become homeless because they were lazy or werent willing to work.
Some of our residents have put me to shame, Clark says, recalling the story of one young mother in particular. She would get up at 5 in the morning, put her bike on the bus and her baby on the bus, and take the bus to where shed drop off her little girl at daycare.
And then she would get on her bike, go to her job rain, shine, whatever and it was just amazing, she says. A couple families that Ive gotten really close to, I think, Here I am complaining, and I dont hear a complaint from this woman whos on her bike on the bus with her baby. You know, its just really humbling.
One family LOTSM recently helped was headed by a single father who had been injured in an industrial accident and couldnt work. His wife died, so there was no income.
It was just a situation where the whole structure crumbled, so they were out on the street, Williams says. Its not because they were shooting drugs. Its just life situations.
Jacqueline Adans troubles began when she smelled a rat literally in her unit at an apartment complex in Milwaukie. After a year of requests to take care of the rodents, the property manager decided to evict Adan rather than deal with the infestation.
Id always paid my rent, Adan says, and wasnt problematic.
Adan got in touch with Legal Aid Services of Oregon, a nonprofit that provides representation on civil cases to low-income clients throughout the state. The agency agreed to help get the eviction off her record, so it wouldnt affect future rental agreements. At the time, Adan was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the apartment owners.
Adan says the lawsuit resulted in her homelessness because it involved more than a year of court dates and she had to miss so much work that she got fired from two jobs. By that time, she was renting a room from a more understanding landlord, but after using her deposit to pay her December 2014 rent, she had no more money left and was forced to move out.
She was scared, she says, but determined not to give up.
Its really overwhelming. But the way I see it, I can cry all I want and worry all I want, but things just have to get better, if youre doing what youre supposed to be doing, Adan says. But she admits, I was really desperate at some points.
First she moved in with a relative, but the relatives landlord wouldnt allow Adan and her kids to stay. So she ended up at the Annie Ross House, an emergency shelter for families in Milwaukie. While there, she continued to seek a more permanent solution only to find herself shuffled through endless government offices, programs and waiting lists.
At first, I felt like, theres no help, she says. You call a line, and they tell you to call someone else. That person says we dont have room, so you get on a list, call another person.
Finally, one of the phone calls paid off, and after a month and a half at Annie Ross, she was accepted into LOTSMs program. What was it like?
It was like having a home. A really nice home, Adan says. It was a great experience. They offer you a lot of help. It was good just knowing that someones there. It was wonderful. It was like having support that Ive never had. It felt good.
Adan eventually won the lawsuit, although the $6,000 settlement was far less than the cost of losing two jobs and becoming homeless. Still, she says shes glad she went through with the lawsuit, because the attorneys fees paid to Legal Aid will help the agency continue to protect the rights of people like her.
While she was living in LOTSMs apartment, Adans county case worker helped connect her with several federal and county programs so that she could start attending community college and apply for citizenship. (She moved to Oregon with her parents from Mexico when she was 15.) She attended her citizenship ceremony just last week, and is looking forward to signing up for next quarters classes at CCC.
How does Adan feel about all the good things that have happened to help her out of homelessness?
Im religious, I have faith, she says after thinking for a moment. And so to me, nothing is just luck or coincidence. To me, things are put in place at the right time when you need them, so Im just grateful that there is a lot of help out there.
-- For more information about the Lake Oswego Transitional Shelter Ministry, visit www.lotsm.org/public.
-- The ministrys mailing address is P.O. Box 1069, Lake Oswego, OR 97034.