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A new home off the streets

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

Innovative affordable housing with services set for key Portland neighborhood

Catholic Charities of Oregon broke ground Sept. 12 on another building with low-cost apartments for people working their way out of homelessness.

Francis & Clare Place in the Buckman neighborhood of Southeast Portland will offer 61 units plus services to help residents achieve stability and stay housed.

At a ceremony next to the construction site, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called the project a positive step in the work to address homelessness.

“As the city continues to develop temporary alternative shelter sites and Safe Rest Villages as a first step away from homelessness and toward housing, it is important that projects like Francis & Clare continue to be developed,” the mayor said. “These housing units will provide individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness a safe and permanent place to live and receive the supportive services they need.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler addresses the crowd at Francis & Clare Place Sept. 12.

Wheeler said the city and county are ahead of promises made to voters for an initial housing bond, with 3,000 units with services either done or in the pipeline. 

Catholic Charities will assist tenants with case management and support. The Native American Rehabilitation Association will be a partner, working with tenants recovering from substance abuse.

Francis & Clare Place is being constructed on the grounds of St. Francis Catholic Parish, which has been helping low-income people since the late 19th century. The church stepped up its services during the Great Depression. Then, for 40 years, the parish operated a soup kitchen that became a hub of social service and community on Portland’s near east side.

Rev. George Kuforiji, pastor of St. Francis Parish, welcomed the new building.

Fr. George Kuforiji is pastor of St. Francis Parish.

“It will be a place where human dignity as created in the image and likeness of God will be exercised,” said the priest.

He told listeners about the namesakes of the project, two medieval Italian saints who left wealthy families behind to dwell among the poor.

“We have great respect for what this parish has done, and affordable housing is a natural next step,” said Natalie Wood, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon. “Francis & Clare Place will be a home where people can heal from the trauma of living on the street, a home where people can find safety and stability, a home where people can thrive.”

Wood said that case managers and supportive service workers make it much more likely that residents will succeed.

“That will be good for everyone in this beautiful community,” Wood said.

For many years, Buckman residents have seen high numbers of homeless campers.  

The building, on the site of the former parish school, will be adjacent to Catholic Charities’ St. Francis Park Apartments, which has 105 affordable units.

With St. Francis Church in the background, workers prepare the site for Francis & Clare Place.

Amenities at Francis & Clare Place will include community space that doubles as a classroom, and on-site offices for property management and supportive services. The project will face Francis and Clare Commons, a pedestrian street with green space and a large plaza. The site gives residents access to job training, grocery stores, bike routes, and frequent service bus lines.

“In the midst of a multi-faceted crisis on our streets, spanning homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, permanent supportive housing with wraparound supportive services is a proven, necessary tool,” said Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “The thoughtful design at Francis & Clare Place, including culturally specific service delivery, is exactly what Portland needs at this critical time.”

Rubio thanked voters for passing Portland’s Housing Bond, which made the project possible.

Officials dig in at the site of Francis & Clare Place Sept. 12.

“For our most vulnerable community members, housing alone isn’t enough to end homelessness – it’s housing paired with supportive services that provides them with a path to stability,” said Dan Field, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which played a major role in the project. “The Joint Office is proud to fund those supportive services at Francis & Clare, made possible by the voters who passed the historic Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure. This project shows what’s possible when we join together to solve homelessness, braiding together our resources to create a solution that responds to community need.”

“Francis & Clare Place will offer a healing home for people exiting houselessness,” said Duncan Hwang, Metro councilor for the district. “Access to a half-dozen bus lines steps away and respite in community spaces and on-site counseling will provide the dignity and safety all residents deserve.”

Malu Wilkinson, program director for equitable development for Metro, explained that her agency makes “catalytic investments” to build climate friendly projects with access to public transit. She noted that the Francis & Clare apartments will be for residents at or below 30% of area median income.

“Those are the people who most need services, who most need this help,” Wilkinson said. “To have that paired with permanent supportive housing is really going to be life changing for the people who will have an opportunity to live here.”

Francis & Clare Place will be a “place of pride and stability to Portlanders experiencing homelessness,” said Philip Porter of Enterprise Community Partners.

Kate Chavez of Enterprise lives near the building site.  

“In a world where housing affordability seems like an insurmountable hurdle, Catholic Charities of Oregon has taken action along with everyone here today,” Chavez said. “The vision for this project is rooted in the belief that everyone regardless of their income deserves a place they can call home, where they can thrive, build their futures and be an integral part of the community.”

Natalie Wood, Catholic Charities executive director, and Kathleen Swift of Heritage Bank embrace during the groundbreaking Sept. 12.

Enterprise teamed up with Heritage Bank Northwest, which provided critical capital for the development. Kathleen Swift of Heritage, a former Catholic Charities board president, thanked public and private funders as well as Father Kuforiji, the Archdiocese of Portland and Catholic Charities.

“It took everybody to get this done,” Swift said.