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‘We used to be your neighbors’

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

Formerly homeless women address misconceptions about people on the streets

Three Portland women who once were homeless stepped forward May 18 to dispel myths about the difficult life.

“I never thought that I would end up homeless,” Sarah told a crowd of 350 gathered for a gala to support Catholic Charities of Oregon. “I never thought I would end up losing everything that I had. I started with a house and two cars, and I had a really great job…I thought I had everything managed.”

In interviews for a video shown at the event, Sarah and two other women explained that anyone could become homeless at any time.

One lost her housing and job because of a surprise bout with mental illness. Another had a disabling fall. Sarah is a survivor of domestic violence who fled a comfortable life simply so she could survive.

“I gave up my life, my history, because I was afraid that if I stayed there, he’d kill me,” Sarah said. “It can happen to anybody.”

“Some circumstances are just out of our control in how we ended up here,” said Lunette, who, like Sarah, lived in Catholic Charities Kenton Women’s Village before working with case managers to find her own apartment. “People don’t wake up one day and decide, ‘I want to live on the sidewalk in downtown Portland.’ We deserve to be seen as your neighbors.”

Rosemarie, who also recently found an apartment after leaving Kenton Women’s Village, voices the impression she sometimes gets from the wider public:

“’Get ‘em off the streets, but don’t put ‘em in my neighborhood!’ Well, we used to be your neighbors,” Rosemarie said.

A nasty fall on ice severely reinjured Rosemarie’s back, and she was unable to work. She had savings, but those went fast without much income.

“Before Kenton Women’s Village, life was tough and it was scary,” said Rosemarie. “I never knew if I was going to be on someone’s couch or if I was going to be in my car for the night.”

All three women found Catholic Charities and said Kenton Women’s Village offered them a safe place to heal, reassess and move forward.

Residents of pod groupings like Kenton Women’s Village move into permanent housing at three times the rate of those living in more traditional homeless shelters, researchers from Portland State University recently found.

Pat Cronin of Holy Redeemer Church speaks with residents of Kenton Women’s Village before serving lunch. The village welcomes homeless women as a first step toward healing from trauma and preparing for permanent housing.

That fulfillment is due to the close case management over a longer period plus supportive community at the village, said Rose Bak, chief program officer for Catholic Charities of Oregon.

“We find that personal attention and deep respect are what work best when accompanying people who are recovering from trauma,” said Bak.

“Every day I am grateful for that village,” said Rosemarie. “Even though it’s my past, I wouldn’t be here without that. Catholic Charities was the lifeline I needed and there at the time I needed it.”

“I am most grateful,” said Lunette, “for the opportunity to reimagine my life.”