Rep. Bonamici tours Tigard's Good Neighbor Center
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici got a look at how Tigard is helping to address family homelessness Tuesday during a tour of the Good Neighbor Center, which serves families experiencing homelessness.
Bonamici spent about 45 minutes at the center, a 38-bed facility that serves up to nine families at a time for six weeks, touring the facility and asking questions about the facility's operations and funding sources. It is the largest of three such centers in Washington County.
Heidi Guffey, a volunteer coordinator at the center, took Bonamici and her entourage on a tour showing all the services the center provides, showing them a recently added 400-square-foot classroom designed as a space where students can study or receive help with their studies from a resident youth specialists. Because of volunteers and in-kind donations, that study space that would have cost $109,000 ended up costing only $50,000, said Guffey.
"With this extra space, they (students) have privacy here," said Guffey.
Renee Brouse, executive director of the Good Neighbor Center, which is located at 11130 Greenburg Road, told the congresswoman that not long ago a mother with three children used the space, noting that one of the woman's children, a 9 year old, had never been to a school.
Other parts of the tour through the center, which was built 20 years ago put has been added onto and remodeled over the years, included a look at the hallway that contains the nine entrances to the families' living quarters as well as a vacant room. Each room contains two bunkbeds, two double beds and dressers. Residents are in charge of helping to clean the facility.
Bonamici said one of the reasons for touring the center was because, "I wanted to learn more about it because housing and homelessness are issues that come up everywhere."
She asked how the center decides on which families to take in and was told it's based on a wait and assessment list.
Brouse said the center serves an average of between 70 and 100 parents and their children each year.
"Last year, we had 290 people," Brouse said.
Further in the tour, Guffey showed the dining area where the families all eat in a communal setting with each family having their own individual table. She said food is donated from a variety of sources with a main supplier being Whole Foods, which contributes between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of food each month.
"We just got a whole truckload of stuff from the (Tigard School District) because it's spring break," said Guffey.
Guffey pointed out that community support for the Good Neighbor Center is high, noting that she recently sent out a request to find milk for what was then its 46 residents, half of them children.
"I posted on Facebook we needed milk and 46 gallons of milk came in that day," she said.
Bonamici said she was glad to be able to draw attention to the work the center's staff was doing and the issue of homelessness in general.
"We desperately need more affordable housing in our community," said Bonamici.
Although the time limit stay for families in the center is only six weeks, they can apply to see if they meet requirements to be house in one of 12 apartments for up to a year. While the goal is to find more apartments for those in need, Brouse said adding an additional six units would cost $39,000 annually.
Asked by Bonamici what happens to families after their time is up, staff said it was sort of a mixed bag.
"We have big hearts and we want to help everyone but that's not realistic and not everyone wants to be helped," said Guffey.
The outlook for those who leave who don't have jobs or don't have a support system to help them out is bleak, according to staff members.
"Most of the families who leave here, leave to sleep in their car or sleep outside," said Rose Browning, the Good Neighbor Center's director of residential services.
But there are successes as well like a woman and her family who stayed at the center in 2015. She recently wrote a letter to staff, saying both she and her husband have jobs, and thanked all those who helped her out.
After the tour, Bonamici said she was impressed with the facility.
"I did learn a lot about all the great work done by the volunteers and staff," she said.