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Foundation supports services that work – with a personal touch

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

One organization that supports the work of Catholic Charities of Oregon has a knack for picking effective projects that focus closely on individuals.

The Chiles Foundation intentionally funds solutions to poverty that are engineered to work person by person.

“Our clients are not just cases to us,” says Victoria Waldrep, manager of Homeless and Transitional Housing Services for Catholic Charities. “They are people first. And that is one of the most special things about what the funding of the Chiles Foundation has been able to do for us.”

The foundation is one of Catholic Charities’ most important partners, says Natalie Wood, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon. “They have a compassionate and smart approach,” Wood explains. “They choose those projects which are most effective but have a very deeply personal touch as well.”

Kristi Richards, executive director of the Chiles Foundation, speaks in 2022 at the grand opening of Chiles House.

Kristi Richards, executive director of the Chiles Foundation, understands why Oregonians feel overwhelmed by poverty now.

“You always are looking at a big picture and you’re thinking, oh, there’s just no way I’m going to be able to fix this,” says Richards. “But when you step back, you know that it’s one life.”

‘A game-changer’

Chiles House, a 27-unit transitional apartment building constructed next to the agency’s headquarters in 2022, is the latest way the foundation supports people as they move out of poverty. The building includes plenty of light, open spaces, private rooms and communal zones – all elements of what’s called trauma-informed design. Studies show that such features are important for those who have lived on the streets.

“We wanted to create a place where we could help people we were already working with rather than sending them to homeless shelters or other traumatizing options,” says Rose Bak, Chief Program Officer for Catholic Charities of Oregon.

Waldrep calls Chiles House a “game changer.”

“It’s allowed us to look at the barrier that might be keeping them out of other housing, and then they’re able to move forward and gain a good rental history that will help them get future housing,” she says. “The Chiles Foundation has been instrumental in letting us combine housing with that social service support.”

Chiles House soars into a blue sky. The 27-unit building is home to people transitioning from homelessness or stepping off the brink of homelessness.

Pedro Garcia, foundation board member and longtime employee, says Chiles normally doesn’t fund bricks and mortar. “But we thought it was a good project to help families in need,” he concludes.

Part of the appeal is that Chiles includes wraparound services that help people stay housed.

“You can’t just take somebody off the street and plop them into an apartment and think that they’re going to make it,” says Richards.

It takes a village

The Chiles Foundation also has significantly backed Kenton Women’s Village, a tiny home community in Portland. Waldrep says the village allows women exiting homelessness to have a warm and stable place to sleep while they do what’s needed to make them ready for housing, including regular meetings with a case manager.

Volunteers like Pat Cronin of Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish recognize the good done by the foundation and the village.

“This is a wonderful program,” says Cronin, who leads a group that brings lunch monthly to share with the village residents. “They get so much support in terms of setting goals for themselves.”

“Transitional housing programs like Chiles House and Kenton Women’s Village are filling a hole in Portland’s safety net,” says Bak. She explains that the two housing options allow Catholic Charities to “work upstream and prevent clients from experiencing more disabling trauma on the street.”

Peer support

The Chiles Foundation has given major support for a peer-to-peer program in which a woman who worked her way out of homelessness accompanies women who are trying to do the same thing.

Ann Marie Latka, peer support specialist, organizes walking groups and knitting circles, and always finds time to give the women individual attention. She has tea and coffee with each regularly.

“I would meet with this one peer at her tent … and sometimes it would be raining, wind blowing. It was miserable,” Latka recalls, her face moving from sad to happy. “And I visit her now in an apartment, and she has a little kitty cat.”

Latka says her job is to be “a friend that walks alongside them and is supporting them and their goals and what they want to do.”

Other staff in the Catholic Charities’ Housing Transition program help homeless women stabilize their lives and find housing. And the relationships staff form with clients is vital. That happens through measures like annual birthday cards and winter hot chocolate parties.

“Everybody should be acknowledged, should know … that they’re loved, that they are seen,” Waldrep says.


Richards is optimistic about resolving Oregon’s homelessness crisis.

“I think we’re going to get there,” she explains. “People are going to realize that it really is one person at a time.”

“All in all,” she concludes, “what makes me happy about the foundation is just knowing that we’re doing some things that are going to make a big difference in people’s lives.”


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The foundation’s founder

The Chiles Foundation was led for more than four decades by Earle Meyer Chiles, a businessman and philanthropist who came from the family that started Fred Meyer retail and grocery stores. His father, the stepson of Fred Meyer, in 1949 established the foundation, which has funded education and health care in addition to culture and social services.

Chiles was born in Portland in 1933, the same year Catholic Charities of Oregon was founded. He was a major supporter of the University of Portland, where the sports dome bears the name of his parents. Chiles died in 2016, and his funeral was held at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

Pedro Garcia, longtime aide to Chiles, recalls his mentor’s vivid but secret generosity. Once, the two were eating in a restaurant when Chiles noticed a honeymooning couple and covertly paid their bill and sent a bottle of champagne.

“I just want people to remember Earle,” Garcia said. “Not only for his money, but for his legacy.”

Earle M. Chiles