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Homeless in Washington County find HELP

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Deborah and Marcos

Marcos Miranda and Lindy Erberson of the HELP program check out the jobs board available to their HELP clients.

For two years, Deborah was homeless and lived in her car. When a friend told her to get help, she did just that by seeking out the Housing Employment Link Partnership (HELP) at the Washington County Workforce Training Center.

“I was eligible for it and I’m so thankful I took the class,” said a tearful Deborah in a testimonial video for the program. “I have housing now and still get help. The program is great…from housing to work to bus tickets and job interviews. They were very supportive at the start of the program when I was ready to give up.”

Now, many more people like Deborah will be served. In its fourth year of operation, the program was awarded a $165,000, three-year grant from the United Way of America and was extended two more years for $330,000. HELP is designed to assist clients who are homeless, or have unstable housing situations and are unemployed or do not have a good source of income.

“They are typically individuals in fragile situations,” said Marcos Miranda, program coordinator. “Not knowing where you are living the next day can be very stressful. The thing program participants get from us is a lot of support. We are here for them. When a client calls they have almost immediate access to services in the program. They are real people who have real people helping them.”

The objective of the program is to direct individuals to stable housing and a job. Working collaboratively, representatives from Portland Community College (the lead agency), Community Action, Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and LifeWorks Northwest provide case management services to help program participants overcome the barriers that are preventing them from enjoying stability in housing and employment.

The program finds prospects through DHS offices, homeless shelters, the PCC Office for Students with Disabilities and the Women’s Resource Center, and from other schools via teachers. Another main source is referrals from past clients like Deborah’s friend.

But does HELP really, well, help? Miranda says the statistics speak for themselves. At first, organizers wanted to serve 75 people per year but has averaged around 100 since its inception. They had a goal of at least 60 percent of clients finding some form of stable housing and employment, but it has actually been around 90 percent.

“Our retention rate has been good,” Miranda said.

Marcos and Deborah

The HELP program idea emerged in 2002 during the downturn in the economy. It was a time when growth of the high-tech industry in Washington County, which had fueled high housing costs, left many residents unemployed and without housing. Some lived on the streets while others simply couch-surfed from one friend’s house to another.

“Housing was expensive and there weren’t many services available to deal with the effects,” Miranda said. “Services were fragmented. Food stamps were in one place while housing services were in another. We decided to have one point of entry to multiple services.”

The program delivers job-search services, on-site recruitment, assistance with resume writing, cover letters, interview help, career planning, job development and tailored job leads. Staff also host weekly support groups, classes to set up a housing case plan and much more.

“We have seen everything,” Miranda said. “We see people with the whole baggage of being low-income to those who have master’s degrees. Homelessness can affect everybody. The main thing is that they will find support in our program.”

If you know somebody who needs assistance, contact the HELP program at (503) 533-2541.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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