Emergency Funding for Head Start: Angel Donors Invest in Children

Last week I wrote about the Head Start program and how the shut down had already begun affecting the ability of several Head Start Programs to be able to serve the children and families enrolled in their local programs.  Several Head Start programs were on the same fiscal year funding cycle as our Federal government, therefore, at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, there was no money available for them to pay their staff, purchase their supplies, or pay their bills during the shut down and families had to find other places for their children to go.

The good news is that some private people who have an understanding of the importance of the work that Head Start does for children, families, and communities, have stepped up and donated $10 million in emergency funding to the National Head Start Association. I received the following in an email forwarded from the director of our local Head Start Program:

Philanthropists Keep Head Start Open During Government Shutdown; Laura and John Arnold provide up to $10 million in emergency funding to help children and families.

This is amazing news and such a wonderful gesture. However, it’s a finger in a few holes in a wall with large cracks forming and the overwhelming pressure is building up behind it. That ten million helps approximately 7,000 kids in six states for the current fiscal year, which just ended or will end at the end of October. Program years where the funding had already been approved and supposedly allocated to be distributed to the programs for the 2012 – 2013 Fiscal Year, which ended right as the 2013 – 2014 academic year was beginning. The 2013 – 2014 Fiscal Year that Senate, Congress, and POTUS cannot or will not agree on, was supposed to start on October 1st for some programs. The rest of the programs are supposed to start November 1st.

At the end of the first week of the government shutdown, seven Head Start programs in six states (AL, CT, FL, GA, SC and MS) were closed, leaving 7,195 of our nation’s most vulnerable children without access to Head Start. More than 11,000 additional children risk losing access to comprehensive Head Start services if the shutdown continues through October. If the government does not reopen by November 1, additional Head Start programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. Territory stand to lose access to Head Start funding.

Something that bothers me about the article is the fact that we are still counting on our government to fix their problems and do the right thing by all of it’s citizens. With each new administration, each new election, each new war, recession, and economic downturn, politicians who may once have had good intentions, vision, and ideals, fail their constituents and fall into the self-perpetuating engine of political posturing, self-promotion, and catering to whoever has the most resources to make the biggest noise. Now, once again, we, the people, are arguing in social media about whose fault it is, vilifying each other for still believing or trusting one party or the other, when our children are not being supported with the educational services they need in order to become the hope for the future they truly are.

“The entire Head Start community and the at-risk children we serve are tremendously grateful to the Arnolds for their compassion and generosity,” Vinci said. “The bottom line, however, is that angel investors like the Arnolds cannot possibly offer a sustainable solution to the funding crisis threatening thousands of our poorest children. Our elected officials simply must find a fiscal solution that protects, preserves and promotes the promise that quality early learning opportunities like Head Start offer to nearly one million at-risk children each year.”

Why don’t the people with these kind of resources: the shareholders, the stock owners, the corporate heads and their CFO’s pool the money they try to hide from the IRS and create a non-profit educational foundation that manages investments and funds the education of their future workforce? Create financial foundations to be the core funding for teaching Americans how to fish and provide the supplies with which to do so?

The checks and balances of our democratic system have ground our government to a halt because the government has outgrown the original and intended purpose. All of the services and programs the government administers serve real needs and some version of these programs are definitely needed by those who receive the services. However, government bureaucracies are not creative, innovative, or inventive. They are administrative. Creative solutions, innovative ideas, and inventive concepts come from those who have something at stake besides the electoral or popular vote. They come from people who have the incentive to survive, grow, and thrive. Invest in the people who are most in need of finding a solution and stop limiting them by saying government is the only way to get our citizens’ needs met.

The most effective programs and solutions have proven time and again to be from a synergy of people with the resources making them available to the people who have experienced the problem first hand. So, let’s get the people and companies with the money, together with the program administrators, the families who’ve been in the program, and the educators who have made Head Start the stellar program it has been over the past fifty years, and create something new whose funding is not attached to bi-partisian bickering and temper tantrums. I think it could work.

I think the same thing could work for programs like SNAP, TANF, ERDC, and so many others. What do you think?

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Accessing Social Services: Where do the rules come from? Follow the money.

Agencies and organizations that provide assistance to families in need, at any level, will always have a list of Rules, Rights, and Responsibilities. A lot of the time it’s about two, double-sided pages long, and is a form which is provided as part of the initial application process. Usually there are two copies, one which the “client/applicant” signs and submits with the application and a copy for the client/applicant to retain. Signing and submitting this form states that the client/applicant has read, understood, AND agrees to abide by the terms and conditions set fort in that document. I believe that one of the biggest reasons for stress, tension, and conflict between the client/applicant and the agency personnel is the fact that a majority of people fail to read and understand these documents before signing and turning them in. Then, when they unintentionally violate the rules or fail to follow through on the responsibilities, they complain that their rights are being denied.

Where do these rules come from?

Generally speaking the rules come from the source of the funding. Private sector organizations, called private, non-profits, are organizations which provide services for which those receiving the services do not pay or pay a minimal amount. Free and low-cost services still require financing. The employees of the organizations have to earn a living wage, the building has to be maintained, supplies have to be paid for, as well as the actual services which the client receives. Somebody, somewhere is paying for that. Business 101: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!

The most common analogy I can think of is commercial television. Prior to digitization, cable, and satellite, it was possible (and still is, although it isn’t well known or easy to understand how to access) for people to plug in their television, attach an antenna, and watch “free” television programming. However, that programming isn’t really “free.” Somebody is paying the costs associated with airing the programming: the salaries of the employees who handle all the behind the scenes support for putting the programming together, the “talent,” (the faces and voices the public wants to see and hear), and provide profit for the shareholders of the various companies involved in program development. This is where the dreaded commercials come in. Companies which have products they wish to market and sell to the same public who is watching the programming, pay for commercial time during shows which likely are watched by their target audience. So, these companies purchase advertising slots, during the shows in which to tell the viewers about their products and try t convince them to purchase the products.

Social service agencies receive their funding from various sources; usually a mixture of government funding at the federal, state, and local levels in combination with money they have received from corporations and foundations who have approved grant applications, and donations received from corporations and individuals who have contributed money to the program’s cause. Government funding comes from collections of taxes and fees which have been associated with specific laws and regulations put into effect by our democratic process. All public money comes with layers and layers of political and legal language specifying how the money which has been collected from the citizens can be used in service to the citizens. As a result of people trying to legislate and regulate real and perceived abuses of public funds, an overwhelming number of regulatory rules have been attached to every penny of public money.

If the organiztion which has received public funds to run specific programs fails to be in complete compliance with all of those rules and they are audited, the organization can be fined and have its funding removed. Therefore, the rules the organization has to abide by, get written into the the rules which the clients have to adhere to. A clients failure to understand and follow the rules, if not caught and appropriately corrected and resolved by the program administrators, can result in the loss of services to all of the clients in the program because the funding could be yanked for non-compliance.

This is also true for funds which come from corporations and foundations. Money that comes from these sources are like scholarships which have to be applied for at regular intervals. Every application period has multiple private, non-profits competing for the money to fund their programs. Grant proposals are written which detail every aspect of the program they are trying to get funding for. The grant proposals talk about the target population for whom the services are being established. It identifies the need and where that need comes from. The grant writers have to explain step by step what the mission, goals, and expected outcomes are and how these things are expected to be achieved, including what the program rules and expectations will be for those who are receiving the services. If the grant is approved, chosen over all the other grant proposals received, the funding is provided with the expectation that all of the details of program development and administration will be adhered to. These are then written into the rules, responsibilities, and expectations the client/recipients are required to agree to. Failure to comply and adhere to the terms of the grant can end the possibility of that grant continuing to be funded and result in the loss of services.

When we request services from any agency or organization, we must understand that these services are not free. Someone is paying for them. As part of that understanding we have to accept that what we aren’t paying for in money, we are paying for with our time, our attitude, and our performance in adhering to the program requirements and meeting our agreed upon responsibilities. If we fail to comply with the terms and conditions of the program, because we didn’t take the time to read and understand the rules and responsibilities of participating in the program, then we have likely given up some of the rights associated with them as well. Our willful ignorance of these things can and will result in loss of services which we need and could potentially result in loss of services to other families and the inability of the agency to continue to provide those services to the community.

The Connundrum of Accessing Social Services: Control, rules, and authority

There are a lot of agencies, organizations, and programs designed to assist people and families that are experiencing subsistence level needs of all kinds. Government administered programs through county, city, and state offices such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrtional Assistance Program or “Food Stamps”), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (Cash Assistance or “Welfare”), Medicaid (OHP/OHP Plus and other health care coverage administered by the state), and ERDC (Employment Related Day Care assistance) are the most common programs thought of, but there are many others. Other programs are administered through community based social service agencies and CDCs (Community Development Corporations) such as Human Solutions, LifeWorks Northwest, and Hacienda CDC are just a few.

It can be quite overwhelming for a family experiencing life crises, especially crises that are economic in nature, to know where to start or how to deal with the complex and seemingly arbitrary rules associated with accessing the services. If family members have been exposed to, grew up in, or have prejudicial attitudes toward those who access government benefits and assistance, it can be even more challenging. For families which have been caught up in generational patterns and cycles of poverty, it can be even worse because of the stigma and prejudices that are so widely prevalent in all forms of media. The degree of stigma, judgment, prejudice, and negative assumptions is very disheartening, demeaning, and undermining of people who genuinely are trying to find a way to dig themselves out of entrenched poverty cycles and for those who find themselves, for the first time in their lives falling into that trench.

Today, I want to address those who find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to ask for help through these programs and agencies.

Asking for help, regardless of the reason for needing the help, is a position most people find themselves in at one point or another in their lives. Everyone makes a mistake, makes a wrong decision, or encounters unexpected events they weren’t prepared for. It’s a fact of life. Some people are educated, trained, equipped, and have the cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and psychological strengths to navigate these things with minimal externally visible effects. Many people are not prepared and may experience any combination of things which combine together in ways that show unmistakable effects, often identified as negative.

If you are someone who is feeling overwhelmed with panic and axiety about your circumstances and who has experienced a lot of hardship and difficulty, reaching out to strangers behind a counter and having to explain your need for their assistance can feel like you are walking into the lion’s den. I’ve been in your situation. I understand what it feels like to fill out packets of forms, then get interviewed and have to explain the answers on the forms. I know, firsthand, the conflicting feelings of defensiveness and desperation, which make you second and third guess every word that comes from your mouth as you watch every eye twitch and body shift of the person you are being interviewed by to determine how they may be judging you and and your words.

I think one of the biggest problems for those of us needing to ask for assistance from these programs is the fact that we are required to disclose every detail and facet of our personal information and provide documentation that we are who we say we are, then justify the fact that we are in a position needing assistance. We often face people who may see tens to hundreds of faces like ours with stories like ours, day in and day out, and our stories and circumstances are not unique in their experience. So, they become numb, jaded, and immune to what we are experiencing emotionally. They appear bored, indifferent, jaded, cynical, matter of fact, and uncaring a lot of the time. There is little to no empathy or compassion displayed and while they may say they understand, they do little to demonstrate that understanding of what we are experiencing.

Somehow, being in the position of requesting assistance, subverts our rights to privacy, autonomy, and independent action. We become accountable to the rules, guidelines, and policies, because they are the rules, guidelines, and policies and these people are the gatekeepers who get to say whether or not we are worthy of being assisted, after we have submitted to full disclosure and full exposure of our most sensitive selves. We become serfs, supplicating ourselves, at the feet of beaurocratic cogs in the system of funding streams, political posturing, and edicts established by highly educated academic theoreticians in think tanks who have little to no direct personal experience with the kind of subsistence and hardship we have gone through which brought us through the doors.

So, people who are feeling the heat of societal stigma, subjected to indifferent and seemingly uncaring administrators, while experiencing stressful and disruptive life-circumstances, who may not be experienced or equipped with effective communication and social skills, are expected to act in rational, compliant ways to make the jobs of those who are processing their requests easier, with little or no expectation that the person they are dealing with is equipped or experienced at interacting with the same level of communication and social skill competency they are expected to have.

Social Work Cartoon: Client, service user, what’s his name?

Do you see the conundrum?

Depression: Finding more threads to hang on by

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In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve spent a significant amount of my almost 30 years of parenting dealing with chronic physical and mental health issues. I was first identified as depressed as a young adolescent. My first diagnosis of fibromyalgia happened by the time I was 20. My son was born when I was 17 and I’d just turned 24 when my oldest daughter was born.

The impacts and effects that living with a parent experiencing these things without sufficient understanding, knowledge, and support in dealing with them, have been very much like is experienced by children who grow up with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent.

The mental and emotional instability which results in children taking on adult responsibilities (like parenting their siblings) combine with the parent’s inability to sustain basic needs with consistency: housing, utilities, and community resulting in chaotic lives lived from one crisis to the next.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – no one sets out to live a life of chaos, confusion, and fear-based decision making. It comes from a combination of nature and nurture. Things experienced in our environments as we grow up can trigger and exacerbate predispositions and latent tendencies.

Without early identification and constructive intervention to understand, educate, and train people in how to differentiate emotion from reality and self-regulate their emotional and psychological responses to stressors, children experience a variety of attachment disorders and act out in ways that are all to often dismissed as phases they will grow out of or attributed gender, class, race, etc. These same children get passed on, shifted around, and their maladaptive coping behaviors turn into character defects and personality disorders.

You can’t learn what you were never taught. You can’t grow seeds which were never planted. A broken vessel cannot put itself back together and generally isn’t responsible for breaking itself. Yet, every single day in all kinds of ways this is what we are expecting of ourselves and the people around us – to be capable of being and doing the things we aren’t equipped for and then deprecating, diminishing, and demoralizing ourselves and others for not meeting unrealistic expectations to be something we aren’t.

Mix that in with stessors such as job loss, death of a loved one, or a government shut down and the scenario for triggering a depressive episode in someone prone to depression, is pretty much guaranteed. Trying to make ends meet, trying to ensure my children’s psycho-social development needs were being met, all while consumed with guilt and depression didn’t work well. However, despite how difficult things were and the twisted paths they wound up choosing, some things must have helped, otherwise much more severe consequences would have been realized by us all.

Here are a few of the resources I have accessed over the years, which may be helpful to you or someone you know who is experiencing depression:

  • School-based counselors/therapists: middle school, high school, and college. If they can’t provide the level and depth of services needed by the individual and the family, they are the first person who has knowledge and access to resources which can help. They can meet with the individual and the family and create an action plan to address the current situation and beyond.
  • Crisis phone lines to help someone who feels too close to the edge of feeling overwhelmed with despair and/or rage who might be feeling on the verge of causing harm to self or others:

Multnomah County Department of Human Services: Crisis Number</a> 503-988-4888. Toll-free at 1-800-716-9769

Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000. Serving teens and parents in crisis. Suicide prevention.

National Parent Helpline: 1-855- 4A PARENT • 1-855-427-2736

  • Employee Assistance Program: Just about every employer has an EAP service, available at no cost to their employees, even if the employees are not eligble for any other benefits. Depending on the employer and the contracted services, the employee may be able to access their EAP for three or more sessions a year for free. Since it is so short term, the employee can utilize the available sessions to do some problem solving and goal setting around accessing longer term services. EAP is available to help with any employee issue that could impair that employee’s ability to perform his or her job, including things like compulsive behavior issues, substance abuse/addiction, grief counseling, and any other psychological, emotional, or relational disruption or disturbance. Even if you work part-time at a minimum wage job, the chances are high that the employer has an EAP program. Contact the Human Resources Department to find out for sure what is available.
  • Medicaid/State-based health plan (OHP): Under the Healthy Kids Oregon program, the state of Oregon has health care coverage for all children under 18 whose families income qualify for the program. This preceeded the Affordable Care Act which will open up Medicaid to many adults who are currently uninsured who fall within 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, effective January 1, 2014 (Unless Congress succeeds in unfunding the ACA as part of the shutdown resolution). At any rate, if the child is covered under the Oregon Health Plan, mental health services for the family can be accessed. Since a parent’s mental health is critical and essential to the healthy care and nurture of the child, a parent who is experiencing mental health challenges and disturbances can receive mental health services under their child’s benefits, as long as the child is included as part of the service planning and is identified as benefiting from the services.
  • Child Protective Services: This agency has a scary reputation because they have the power and authority to remove children from a home if a report of child abuse or neglect is made and the investigator determines there is sufficient cause to do so. However, the people who are working in that system genuinely care about the welfare of the children and know that keeping families together or working toward reunification is always the first preference for all parties. When parents are mentally and emotionally unwell and overwhelmed, it can feel like the workers are unsympathetic, uncaring, and as if they may have it in for the parents. This is seldom the case, but it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because the parents are suspicious, fearful, feeling threatened and react with belligerance and resentment, often being combative and resistant to what the worker and the agency are trying to offer the family. Parents who reach out for help and self-identify as needing additional supports can often be connected with and referred to a community based service agency which can provide supportive services to help the parent through the initial crisis and get connected to ongoing services which will improve their stability and ability to successfully manage the multiple roles and responsibilities associated with parenting.

Essentially, the parent who is experiencing any form of mental and emotional disturbance, disruption, or detrioration needs to do the thing that feels the most dangerous and counter-intuitive. He or she needs to reach out and talk to a professional or trained volunteer who can and will help with listening in a non-judgmental manner, work with the parent to identify and assess needs, and provide resource and referral information and connections.

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Early Childhood Education: Is Head Start a non-essential entitlement?

Me: Are you ready to do your homework and work on your letters?

My 4 year old daughter: YES!

I’ve spent the past 30 years of my life responsible for contributing to the care, nurture, education, growth, and development of children in my life. Starting with helping out with my baby cousin when I was 14 years old. During this time, I’ve made a lot of choices and have taken a lot of actions which did not serve to create and establish economic stability or provide emotional and mentally stable and healthy living environments for my oldest children, who are now 26 and 20.

I tried, I really did. I sought out and accessed mental health services and parenting support programs. I enrolled them in after school enrichment programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Big Brother/Big Sister programs, attempted to support them in extracurriculars like school athletics and the like. I knew I needed the support of a social safety net to help them survive having me as a mom and the things I have struggled with for a lifetime: depression, dysfunctional relationship attachments, and gaps in my life-skills education and abilities. Yet, despite all the trying, I watched both of their lives go down dark and painful paths, more treacherous and devastating (for a time; thank Gd they are both doing much better now) than any I had taken.

When, at 37 years old, I found out I was expecting another child, I was scared and determined that this child would have the benefit from me having learned the hard way what not to do and that he or she would experience a different future from the kind of life her siblings or I grew up with.

I don’t have a personal social safety network of family and friends. My mother died when I was 12 and I didn’t meet my father until 2010. He lives in another state and has done his best since we found each other to connect with me, but he can only do what he can do. The few family members of mine who are “local” are dealing with living life on survival’s edge themselves and we aren’t that close; never have been really. I know I share the fault in that, but supportive, encouraging, and engaged family attachment isn’t something I grew up knowing and experiencing. Sadly, life lived in crisis and survival mode is less than conducive to establishing, maintaining, and sustaining mutually supportive friendships in the long run.

This means I have been seeking out and accessing as many community based supports as I can. Programs like Healthy Start, the Family Relief Nursery of the Volunteers of America, and Head Start.

Healthy Start is a program directed at providing in-home early childhood education and parenting supports as well as regular developmental screenings in order to identify at the earliest possible stages any social, emotional, cognitive, or physical affects which could inhibit or impair the child’s ability to develop and grow to their fullest potential. This is a program designed and geared toward first-time parents. We qualified because she was her father’s first child. We had weekly home visits where the educator brought developmental toys, games, books, and curriculum and interacted with us and our daughter. The curriculum provided information about our child’s developmental stages and taught us the kinds of activities and supports we could be doing on our own to support our daughter’s growth. In addition to the eary childhood education and parenting supports she provided, the educator would regularly work with us to identify and assess goals that we wanted to work on and achieve for ourselves and our daughter. She also provided resource and referral information for additional needs we had.

The Volunteers of America Family Relief Nursery Program, is a child abuse prevention service. Frequently, families which have become involved with Child Protective Services and/or where the parents have substance abuse, criminal history, and/or domestic violence issues may be court mandated to participate in such a program. However, services are available to any who meet the program criteria – which are NOT based on financial need. The program provides two, three hour blocks of respite care for children ages from six weeks to five years old. A third day of respite care is available, to families not currently enrolled in the respite program first and then to currently enrolled families if there is space. Parent education classes, which help parents understand, learn about, and plan for dealing with the behavioral and emotional challenges which can trigger abuse and neglect. The focus on teaching the development and progression of the social and emotional aspects of children, helps parents to understand what drives challenging behavior and to develop proactive solutions and plan for how to help their children deal with their emotions. This education also helps parents who did not receive supportive care and nurture for their own emotional and psychological development as children to better understand themselves and to identify the areas of growth in themselves in order to better parent and navigate life.

My daughter's Head Start  classroom and playground

My daughter’s Head Start classroom and playground

Head Start used to only provide early childhood education for pre-school children 3 – 5 years old. It has grown to include an Early Head Start component which provides home-based parent education and early childhood development supports as early as pregnancy. Center based programs can begin as early as six weeks. According to the Office of Head Start:

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

Due to services available through our involvement with the Early Head Start and Head Start programs over the previous three years, I have been able to access additional supports to help me deal and cope with parenting my youngest daughter while dealing with untreated chronic physical and mental health conditions; relational disruptions and difficulties between myself, her father, and her older sister; and identify developmental concerns for her which make her eligible to receive Early Intervention educational supports.

The sequester which created an across the board 5% cut in federal spending back in March of this year, meant that the federally funded Head Start program my daughter is enrolled in had to end services in mid-May and not start up classes again this Fall until mid-September. The end of this program’s fiscal year is October 31st. If the government shut down continues, no services will be available, starting on November 1st.

Parents who rely on center based care for their children while they work or attend school will be left scrambling to locate qualified care-givers they can afford. Since the Head Start program is not a service that charges or accepts money from the families it serves, families at or near the federal poverty level, these families do not have money in their budgets to pay the equivalent cost of enrolling their children in full-time pre-school programs which can cost over $2,000 a month.

Federal Poverty Guidelines, show the annual income for a family of three to qualify for the program to is $19,350. There is a possibility that families can fall between 100 – 130# to a maximum of 130% of that and have an annual income up to $25,389. At the 130% level, the monthly pre-tax income for that family is $2,115.75. Meaning there is zero chance that a family earning that little money with one or more children in the Head Start program would be able to afford to pay to have their child/ren cared for and educated with the quality and caring equitable to what they receive attending Head Start.

In order to continue to make ends meet parents may be forced to leave their children with less qualified, caring, or safe individuals. Some parents without even those resources may have to leave school or have difficulty keeping their jobs. The safety nets of programs which are partially or fully funded by federal monies such as unemployment and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families will become even more burdened than they already are even as their ability to serve families in need is drastically diminished.

For those who complain about the size of our government and the cost to their bottom line, please realize that the government now provides the social safety nets which once were provided by family, friends, neighbors, and businesses in local communities, for those who were fortunate enough to be connected to these things. As time has gone and our society industrialized, commercialized, and digitized, the social supports and connections to community have continued to erode for more and more people. Government has both played a role in the erosion and stepped in to fill the many holes.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that it isn’t working well and it isn’t working right. Instead of pointing fingers, playing the blame game, and holding ideals, beliefs, and agendas as of higher importance than people, we need to come together to create solutions based on the way things are now, instead of how they used to be or how we wish they would have stayed. It is clear that we can’t trust or rely on people in governmental or corporate positions of influence and power to maintain the social safety nets our society needs in order to continue to work to improve opportunities and develop the human potential of its citizens. The safety nets are still needed and necessary, but we need to take ownership and figure out how we can become each others’ safety net.

Homeless in Portland

Portland is a wonderfully eclectic place to live in. There is something for everyone, regardless of lifestyle, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), race, ethnicity, or country of origin. It’s the home of tree huggers and digital industrialists alike. It’s also Hollywood’s newest, Hipster cousin: home of television series like Portlandia and Grimm, as well as a key location for filming movies such as The Hunted, Untraceable, and Extraordinary Measures. Portland is an amazing place to live.

That being said, Portland also has it’s darker aspects. On April 23, 2013, Dana Tims of The Oregonian reported:

Homelessness in Multnomah County, particularly among veterans, families, women, and adults with disabilities, is dire and likely getting worse. . .

In terms of comparisons, Multnomah County appears to have higher numbers of homeless families than similar areas elsewhere, . . . The percentage of homelessness here is higher than King County, Wash., San Francisco and Hennepin County, Minn. — an area often held up as a model for combating homelessness. . .

The 2,666 homeless families counted in Multnomah County in 2011, she said, dwarfed the 635 homeless families counted in San Francisco that same year. ~ Multnomah County homelessness problem dire and likely to get worse, experts say

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A local homeless man gathering up his sleeping gear after spending the night under shelter in front of a store. (c) 10/02/2013, lem

People huddle in blankets and sleeping bags under the covered areas of storefronts, churches, and public parks after businesses close and passersby, who are likely to shun, complain, or harass the homeless retire to their homes. The covered areas beneath Portland’s numerous bridges and overpasses, along with the biking and hiking areas containing trees and foliage have makeshift communities of all ages, from all backgrounds which have continued to grow in number.

Private non-profit community service agencies such as Human Solutions have started operating Warming Centers during the worst of the winter weather. According to their website:

Family homelessness is a genuine concern in our community. The January 26, 2011 One Night Shelter Count identified 5,220 homeless people in Multnomah County. Of those 5,220 homeless people, 2,784 were people in families, including 1,602 children under the age of 18. People in homeless families, including infants and children, made up over half (53%) of all the homeless people in the count.

Some shelter programs do not have the capacity to keep families together, separating genders above certain ages, meaning husbands and fathers are not able to share the same quarters as their families and adolescent sons have to fend for themselves in overwhelming and frightening circumstances. Warming Centers for families open during the winter months, usually during the worst weather months, November through March or April. Several shelter programs are only available to women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence, which is needed, but may cause desperate mothers and fathers to misrepresent their situations in order to provide safe shelter for their children, because there aren’t enough resources to serve the increasing number of homeless families.

One family shelter that I am aware of, which keeps families together while providing structured services, like life-skills training, to help families transition from homelessness and instability into obtaining their own housing and sustainable self-sufficiency, is My Father’s House, located in Gresham, OR.

My oldest two children and I were residents in an earlier incarnation of the program, ten years ago, during the Summer of 2003. Since then, the program has grown from housing five families at a time in five bedrooms of a conjoined duplex, which also housed the administrative office and class/meeting room, to owning a 20,000 square foot facility that can house up to 30 families. They are currently in the process of building transitional apartment housing for 12 single-mother families who have graduated their main shelter program.

My Father’s House is not an immediate entry emergency shelter; meaning, a homeless family cannot simply show up on the doorstep on a first come, first serve basis and have a place to sleep that night. There is an intake process which starts with a phone call to, (503) 492-3046.

Homelessness and poverty in Portland, in America, is, in my personal opinion, reaching epidemic proportions. The causes, effects, and co-related factors are complex, multi-layered, and require that every individual within the community set aside assumptions, prejudices, and judgment. It also requires that every one of us take personal ownership of creating solutions and creating change where we live and not relying on elected officials, community service organizations, and churches to help “those” people. You would be surprised that many of “those” people are co-workers, classmates of your children, and the fast food worker who is cleaning up the debris left on the tables and floors because “that’s their job.”

The stigma of being poor and homeless and the criticism of people needing to access government funded services pushes people into hiding their need from others. Perhaps, if we all figured out what we could do, where we are at with the resources we do have, there would be less reliance on government. Even those of us who may be on the verge of homelessness ourselves, still have something to offer or share, whether it’s time, or just reaching out to offer a hug, a smile, or a listening ear.

When everyone is sinking in quicksand and it’s every man for himself – no one gets out. Let’s reach out to our fellow human beings and citizens and help each other to get up and get out of poverty and homelessness.

What is PDX Social Safety Net?

Welcome to PDX Social Safety Net.

This blog provides information and insight regarding the things affecting residents in the diverse microcosm of Portland, OR (PDX). Social refers to what is commonly called or considered social services – the organizations and agencies which have been established to help provide a safety net for families who are experiencing difficult times and need assistance, for whatever reason.

Different agencies and organizations will be written about from my personal perspective as someone who has either worked with or for them or who has personally accessed their services. I am also inviting others who have direct experience with agencies to write about them. It is my hope that articles featuring specific agencies or their services will do more than just provide an overview, but will offer insight and perspective which will provide supportive information for those needing to access the services.

Since I am writing from my personal experience, I will be offering what I have found that works or does not work for me. I will share my personal experiences from interacting with different organizations and navigating different systems. Hopefully, my experiences will be relevant and helpful to others. Additional information about me and my background can be found on the About page.

A few of the topics which will be included are:

  • Identifying, applying for, and accessing services
  • Mental Health
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Health
  • Employment

This is a work in progress and I welcome questions and feedback. If there is an agency or topic that is of interest and you would like more information on, please leave a comment and I will respond as soon as I am able to gather the relevant information. I will add information onto the Resource Links page as I go along. Agency and resource information which is not yet available here, may be located on the 211info.org website or by dialing 2-1-1 from any phone.