For the better part of a decade, a group called Just Compassion has been doing its part to serve homeless people living in east Washington County.
For the first time, though, according to recording secretary Pam May, Just Compassion is holding a major fundraiser this fall, on Oct. 3 at the Broadway Rose Theatre Co. in Tigard.
What's changed? May and fellow board member Donna Krauthoefer said it depends on what kind of support the group can get — but its goal is to purchase a piece of property on Hall Boulevard, a couple blocks south of Highway 99W in Tigard, and develop it as a day shelter for homeless adults.
"If this fundraiser goes well, we can plan other ones and hopefully get to the point where we can actually purchase the property outright so that we can get the help we need from the Home Builders (Association of Metro Portland)," May said.
While it might be most recognizable for the laminated "resource cards" it provides for the homeless — listing places where people can go for food, showers and shelter, the days and hours they are open, the bus lines that stop near there, and what requirements, if any, there are to access — Just Compassion does also provide a day shelter for homeless adults in Tigard right now. However, it operates for just four hours per week, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday at the Tigard Foursquare Church, 13720 S.W. Pacific Hwy.
Just Compassion has been leasing the Hall Boulevard property and has an option to buy it, Krauthoefer said. But to do so, the nonprofit group needs money.
"It's a double property with two actual structures on it, and we want to convert that to at least a five-day-a-week day center, metamorphosing into that one-stop resource center … but it's going to require a lot of funds for us to operate that and renovate it, et cetera, et cetera, and that's why we're holding this first big fundraiser," May said.
Constellation of groups work on homeless, housing issues
Just Compassion is one in an array of agencies, organizations and networks that assist the homeless population in Washington County. It works with Washington County cities and churches to provide severe weather shelters, showers, access to resources, and help with services like obtaining an identification card — an important document May said many homeless people lack, often because it ends up being lost, damaged or stolen while they are living on the streets — or getting connected with affordable housing.
There is already a homeless shelter in Tigard, which is geared toward families with children. Renee Brouse, executive director of the Good Neighbor Center, sits on Just Compassion's board of directors and is co-chairing the Oct. 3 fundraiser with Krauthoefer.
"The day center would be a larger opportunity to serve homeless adults," Brouse explained. "So the synergy in Good Neighbor Center and Just Compassion is the fact that both organizations work with the homeless population, so therefore we can share resources that we have and partnerships that we have. The difference is that Good Neighbor Center serves homeless families and Just Compassion serves homeless adults."
For May, it's a cause that is deeply personal: For five years, she was homeless herself. She said she lost her job after missing time due to a medical issue for which she did not have health insurance, and she ended up losing her home and being forced out onto the streets. Just Compassion invited her to participate to give a voice to the homeless after she started coming to its meetings, and eventually, she was accepted into a program that allowed her to move into her own apartment. She has been in housing for five years now, she said.
Homeless population marginalized but far from exclusive
May is one of the lucky ones.
"I was only only homeless for five years. I knew people that were homeless for 10, 15 years when I was out on the street — and some of those people are still homeless," May said. "And I had survivor's guilt for a while. For the first six, seven months, I kept on thinking I was going to get on a knock on the door from the police, saying, 'Hey, what are you doing in here, get out, you're trespassing,' et cetera. And I felt guilty about leaving some of these people on the street that were older, had been out longer, and definitely had illnesses and problems that they needed to get off the street for."
The "overwhelming kindness, humanity and sympathy" with which she was treated by Just Compassion means more to May than she can put into words, she said.
She added, "You know, a lot of people don't ever think about 'there but for the grace of God go I,' and how many families are living one or two paychecks away from being on the street. That is one of the alarming trends that we've seen in the last couple of years. … In the last two years, we have seen such a huge influx of seniors, especially seniors with very profound medical problems, all of the sudden being homeless and on the street in the middle of winter."
May recounted being homeless and not have a place to stay at night during the winter.
"I remember what it was like. I remember walking all night because it's so cold that if I sat down somewhere, I really didn't know if I would ever be able to get back up again," she said. "And so I walked and walked and walked all night, and then the whole next day, I was sleeping in the library. And I felt bad about that, because I'm interfering with the library. … Having a day center would help with all of that."
Just Compassion close to realizing long-held dream
Brouse said Just Compassion is holding this fundraiser, which organizers are calling "Supper in the 'Burbs," because it sees an opportunity to finally open that day center for homeless adults — something it has wanted to do all along, she remarked.
"We're closer than we've ever been, for sure," she said, adding, "There's just a lot of energy that's propelling this forward as a team of individuals to help fulfill this original goal."
"The main gist of this is we're trying to help the homeless," May said. "We're trying to provide them with a physical, tangible, something that we can use to give back to the community and try and make the homeless feel more inclusive, more comfortable. But we're also hoping that having a dedicated day center might relieve pressure on various businesses and city organizations that, right now, are providing — whether they like it or not — stopgap measures to help the homeless."
Organizers are looking for a good turnout at the fundraiser.
"We're hoping for at least 100, and it sounds like we could have more than that," Brouse said. "So we're pretty excited — first time out of the gate."
The presenting sponsor is the King City Lions Club. Dan Murphy, Broadway Rose's co-founder and managing director, will be the event host.
Attending the fundraiser is not the only way people can help out with Just Compassion.
"We are always in need of volunteers — always," Krauthoefer said. "And we have lists of things that volunteers can do."