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American Military Encouragement Network, Do Good Multnomah expand missions beyond veterans to protect homeless against COVID-19.

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Social worker Stephanie Billmyre is flanked by Clackamas Veterans Village Manager Jonny Fisher (left) in a food warehouse run by James Sherman and Phil Blake of the American Military Encouragement Network.Two nonprofit organizations that have been helping homeless veterans in Clackamas County have expanded their mission beyond former military personnel to keep the most vulnerable people off the streets where they are more likely to contract and spread COVID-19.

So far, more than 70 people who had been living in campsites in Clackamas County are living in 64 hotel rooms. Using federal Housing and Urban Development emergency funds administered through Clackamas County, an organization called Do Good Multnomah has been renting hotel rooms in Gladstone, Clackamas, Wilsonville and Estacada, said social worker Stephanie Billmyre.

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Phil Blake, board president of the American Military Encouragement Network, shows a typical food box for people living in Clackamas County hotel rooms."The purpose was to get people who are older or with preexisting health conditions to safer locations," she said. "It should definitely be noted that anyone with a fever or an uncharacteristic cough is not being housed in these hotel rooms."

Since 2018, Do Good Multnomah has managed a separate program called the Clackamas Veterans Village, which started as 15 pods and has since expanded to provide transitional housing for 23 homeless veterans.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the village can only serve 16 veterans at this time, according to Jonny Fisher, program manager for Veterans Village and development manager for Do Good.

"Social workers are definitely the unsung heroes right now, because they're going out looking for people who are sick and putting themselves at risk to find those who need housing the most," he said.

Participants in both Do Good programs now have housing, but they still need to eat, and that's where the American Military Encouragement Network comes in. AMEN started in Damascus Community Church 17 years ago, and eventually became its own nonprofit in 2015, providing thousands of food boxes annually to military families in need across the state.

AMEN's 4,000-square-foot warehouse, at 16569 S.E. 115th Ave., is conveniently located walking distance from the Veterans Village in urban unincorporated Clackamas. AMEN Board Phil Blake said the organization is doing its best to keep up with the expanding needs of Do Good by preparing initial hotel-room packages that included a can opener and a microwavable bowl so the program participants would be ready for ensuing deliveries.

"Usually our shelves are full, but with everything that's happening, we're having to go to retail stores, which costs a lot more," Blake said.

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Phil Blake, board president of the American Military Encouragement Network, prepares stacks of food boxes for delivery across the state.More than 100 Coast Guard families depended on AMEN during the government shutdown last year, when the group delivered extra holiday food boxes. With the latest crisis, AMEN's finances are again being stretched thin, and the group is asking for tax-deductible gifts through amen-project.org or to P.O. Box 1923, Clackamas, OR 97015.

Billmyre said Do Good Multnomah's finances are similarly strapped, having gotten an initial $125,000 payment for the hotel rooms but waiting on another promised $450,000 to expand the program to 116 rooms.

"That's barely hitting the surface as to people who have nowhere to shelter," she said. "We're both expanding our mission statements for the greater good. But if it weren't for AMEN, our participants would have to go without meals."


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