• My Day with REDS: Meeting People Where They Are

    My Day with REDS: Meeting People Where They Are
    By: Sienna Grosse
    ShelterCare Development Intern
    Recent graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Planning, Public Policy, and Management from the University of Oregon
    Sienna is passionate about making the world a more equitable place. In her internship at ShelterCare, she was able to explore her interest in the nonprofit sector and housing services.

    By navigating housing options within an existing social network, ShelterCare’s REDS program (Rapid Exit and Diversion Services) works to help newly unhoused individuals avoid overwhelmed emergency shelters and unsheltered living situations. Shadowing alongside two of RED’s Rapid Resolution Specialists, I was able to get a firsthand look at the work they do in our community. On a warm afternoon, I followed the team over to a popular spot where community members experiencing homelessness hang out. We set up a table, put out some snacks and water, and waited for people to come by. 

    As people came to the table one by one, each inquired about why we were there. Either Chelsea or David, the Rapid Resolution Specialists, would explain the REDS program. Each pitch was a little different, but essentially the same. “If you know anyone who you can stay with, but they live in a different state, or the relationship needs mediation, or maybe we could help with the electric bill as payment for letting you stay, we can help,” they’d say. If someone does fit into one of these situations, the team can then do the necessary resource navigation to get them sheltered. This can look like getting in touch with family members or friends to confirm someone can stay with them, buying tickets to get people to different places around the country, or one of my favorites, helping with the down payment for Oxford housing, a self-run, self-supported recovery house for people struggling with a substance use disorder. The team said that the last option is a popular one, and one of their favorite ways to help, too, particularly because this solution offers a pathway for people to get into long-term, sustainable, and stable housing. 

    Though a small percentage of people experiencing homelessness fit within the specific categories that the REDS program serves, this has its upsides. Eugene has a number of street outreach programs run by different nonprofit organizations, and at ShelterCare, we strive to reach the specific and niche populations that are not being served by the others so as to avoid duplicating services. This also helps us reach a perhaps small, but nonetheless underserved, population. 

    One challenge of working with such a diverse group, such as the unhoused community, is that people’s needs and desires regarding housing vary across a wide spectrum. There is no one quick fix or solution that can be applied across the board. The REDS program recognizes that, and has found a way to meet a broad spectrum of unique needs and desires by going directly to the source, and then navigating through people’s social networks to meet their housing needs. 

    My experience working with the REDS team opened my eyes to the diversity of needs within Eugene’s unhoused population and helped me to understand why outreach programs like REDS are so vitally important.

    Please note: the contract for ShelterCare’s REDS program has recently ended.

  • ShelterCare’s Birch Program: Loren’s Story

    ShelterCare’s Birch Program: Loren’s Story

    “Having a program that seeks you out is so important because when you’re out there on the streets, there’s nothing — there’s no hope,” says ShelterCare Birch program participant Loren. “You don’t see people getting off the street, you just see more people getting added, so having someone seek you out really means a lot — it changes your outlook on hopelessness. Even though you can get that low, there’s someone who will find you.”

    ShelterCare’s Birch program is a transitional shelter and case management program working to help divert people with serious mental health needs from jails and psychiatric hospitals and enable them to stabilize in the community. Birch clients have been found unable to aid and assist in their own legal defense and are referred to ShelterCare by the courts and Lane County Behavioral Health. Most Birch participants were unhoused prior to their stay in the Oregon State Hospital or jail. ShelterCare operates three homes within the Eugene metro. They house nine people, with pending court charges, at a time. Staff have offices within the homes and offer onsite support groups such as art and mindfulness. The Birch program has served 21 individuals in the last year.

    Participation in the Birch program immensely decreases the individual’s utilization of local emergency services. Loren explains how Birch helped him remain out of jail, “I worked my entire life and when I wasn’t working, I was on drugs, then I would jump right back into being employed, so I think it’s really special to be given a period of your life when you’re able to just reflect on where you’re at and what you’re doing…they are there to hear you and help you with personal forgiveness no matter what you’re doing. You really are slotted for success immediately.”

    ShelterCare believes in the Housing First model, meaning that people must first become housed, then they are able to work on other personal goals without being in survival mode. “Before entering the (Birch) program, they put me in a soft release. Someone comes and meets you upon exiting jail and gives you a tent, sleeping bag, and cell phone. That happened two times, then the third time I was exiting jail, I met Josh, Brittany, and Risa. They took me right from jail into housing,” explains Loren. “I think a really good thing is that it’s not meant to force you into anything, but they are there to support you for as long as you need just to regain your sanity, and I think that’s really important in people’s lives like mine.”

    Loren is a life-long Eugene native and musician. He reminisces on his time before becoming unhoused, saying “I used to make a lot of music! We made a bunch of albums and played a bunch of shows — hundreds of shows around town and we got to tour!”

    He explains how drugs were the root of his homelessness, “Then I fell off the rocker and into drugs. I was homeless for about 2 ½ years. I was trying to make it out there, but everything collapsed. It was scary because people stopped being hospitable. I ran out of people to beg for money from. I did some heroin and got locked up.”

    Loren says the support that the Birch program provided changed his life, “I went from having completely nothing and being a shot of heroin away from going to jail to having everything back.”

    Now that Loren is in his own independent housing, works full time, and is clean and sober, he is thinking about what he wants for his future. “I’m starting to feel the age and the need for responsibility and to really start thinking about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. What do I want to grow old doing? Where do I want to grow old? How am I going to pay for these things?” he ponders, “My goal is to get to a place where I’m really secure and proud of myself.”

    Loren already has a lot to be proud of, “I give myself less credit than I deserve – I did really well and I’m impressed with myself.” In addition to remaining self-sufficient, Loren’s goals are around building connections “my goals are mostly around finding quality friendships – people who are supportive of me, understand what I’ve been through, and still stick around,” he says.

    He was really excited to share about his new pet, “I’m going to get a kitten today, I’m super excited!” The kitten’s name is Moses.

    Our Birch program provides the support that helps people like Loren become stably housed. Your donation supports programs like Birch and makes a difference in the lives of over 2,500 ShelterCare program participants each year. Will you support ShelterCare by making a donation today?

  • Our Most Valuable Resource

    Our Most Valuable Resource

    The social service network of any community is a vital part of ensuring the resiliency and safety of the residents. Services can include anything from counseling to housing support, senior services to infant care, and education to emergency services. Anyone can have an incident in their lives that can send them into a tailspin. 

    We all need help at some point.

    None of these services are possible without the individuals who provide them. The people who work for social service agencies are highly skilled in their areas of expertise from working with children to seniors and everything in between. The most vulnerable people in our community depend upon these essential workers who, even through the pandemic, wildfires, heat domes, and blizzards, step up and show up. 

    There are still other staff who may not work directly with clients, but ensure that services are accomplished by doing other needed behind the scenes work such as doing payroll and insurance, IT and infrastructure, staff training and recruitment, and so on.

    And yet their pay is often less than that offered at fast food restaurants or far less than those doing the same work at a “for profit” company.

    Why? The answer is twofold.

    Many of the services provided by nonprofits are paid through grants that come from federal, state, or local governments. Most of those grants are multi-year contracts that do not increase from year to year, with no room for wage growth or inflation. In ShelterCare’s case, they don’t take increasing rents into account, which is a huge line item in our budget. After a few years of this, social service staff get left behind.

    To be clear, our local officials know and understand this situation, but their hands are tied when most local funds come through federal and state sources. This is an opportunity for all of us to advocate for appropriate wages for our social service staff, to our state and federal representatives.

    The second reason nonprofit staff have such low pay in comparison to other types of businessess is culture and attitude. There’s the pervasive opinion that those who choose to provide care for others “knew what they were doing” and that they’d “never get rich.” No one is asking to get rich–they just want to pay their rent.

    Nonprofit does NOT mean nonvalue. Imagine for just a moment if all of the services provided by all of the nonprofits in our community just disappeared overnight. No more ShelterCare, Red Cross, Mission, Boys and Girls Clubs, and so on. What would the quality of life be like? If you have concerns now about your neighborhood, what would you think if there were no CAHOOTS or St. Vincent de Paul?

    The people who work for all of these agencies need to be recognized for the valuable treasures they are. I am in awe every time I see one of my team guide a program participant into getting their first apartment. 

    How can you help? As I mentioned before, advocate for appropriate, competitive wages for social service workers. Too many leave this high-stress field because they can’t afford to do the work they love. You can also donate to your favorite organization (I hope it’s ShelterCare) and avoid designating your gift so that we can put it into staffing costs. 

    Without our staff, there wouldn’t be programs to provide!


  • Life Can Get Better for People Living with Serious Mental Health Issues

    Life Can Get Better for People Living with Serious Mental Health Issues
    About the Author: Chris Cunningham recently completed her five-year term as a ShelterCare board member, serving as the board liaison with the agency’s program participants. She continues to participate as a member of the ShelterCare Public Relations committee, and also is a participant with NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Statewide Policy Advocates.

    May is designated Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ve been reflecting on the personal experiences that have shaped my thinking about people with serious mental illness as well as the systems that have provided them care for the past 60 years.

    These days, we have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, from housing and
    medications to job training and case management. Across the U.S., Permanent Supportive Housing is recognized as best practice for people with serious mental illness who have struggled to maintain stable housing. It seems simple, doesn’t it, to give someone who lives with a mental health issue a stable place to live, combined with case management and other services?

    However, it hasn’t always been that way.

    I remember the night in 1959 when my scout troop rode a school bus to Mendocino State
    Hospital on the outskirts of town to perform a Christmas pageant. We sang before a packed audience of patients with mental illness in an old auditorium. At the time, mental institutions were performing frontal lobotomies and placing patients in strait jackets, and the sight of patients with partially shaved heads and bound upper bodies was a frightening sight for eight-year-old girls. That field trip begged for some basic education about mental illness, as the process of deinstitutionalization had already begun.

    A few years later, our Aunt M. came to live with my family after she was discharged from
    Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, one of several she admitted herself to over her lifetime. My beautiful aunt with bright blue eyes and a porcelain complexion received a diagnosis of schizophrenia when she was 18 years old. At our house, she spent a lot of time in her room writing about her hallucinations, even while she endeared herself to we children with lots of hot cocoa and excursions to movie theaters and ice-skating rinks. After her final hospital stay, she lived in subsidized housing, with only a pair of eyeglasses and a change of clothes to her name. I’ve often wondered if she had ever received a visit from a case manager?

    After Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967 to end the practice of
    institutionalizing patients with mental illness against their will, the process of
    deinstitutionalization began in earnest, occurring in tandem with a civil rights movement that deemed all people deserved the freedom to live in less restrictive environments. According to the Journal of Law and Health, the number of patients living in state hospitals dropped from 535,000 in the ’60s to 137,000 in the ’80s. But affordable housing also disappeared, and vast numbers of previously institutionalized individuals and those who might have been admitted to institutions ended up living on the street or in single room occupancy hotels and temporary shelters.

    Court decisions that limited our mental institutions’ ability to confine people against their will may have preserved individual freedoms on paper and even prevented wrongful hospitalization at the front end, but the process didn’t give much attention to establishing preventative services and treatment programs. Funding for housing and community-based services was abysmal.

    In 1974, I accepted a practicum assignment from DHS to facilitate a “socialization group” of five middle-aged women who had recently been discharged from Oregon State Hospital in Salem. They lived alone in apartments scattered around the community. Their transition from institutionalization to independent living was fraught with barriers, ranging from a lack of understanding on how to manage personal finances, schedule medical appointments and prepare nutritious meals. I kept track of them after our group disbanded and noted that all had died 10 to 15 years post discharge, before age 65.

    On a field visit to Dammasch State Hospital with my undergraduate counseling cohort in 1975, I observed that that those patients left institutionalized were living in an environment like the one I had seen at Mendocino State Hospital 16 years earlier: Inside the sparsely furnished day room, patients crouched in corners, or carried on conversations with invisible others, or chewed on their fingers and hands until they bled. Had the system given up, failing to understand that their patients were human beings who might have accepted the chance to improve their outcomes?

    The National Institutes of Health reports that 65 percent of those with serious mental illness recover fully or partially. Imagine what we could do with increased financial and human resources and accompanied by transparent community education to usher the process along?

    Take my family member. After being chronically homeless for several years, she now lives in her own tidy apartment and is taking steps toward self-sufficiency, thanks to ShelterCare’s Permanent Supportive Housing program.

    ShelterCare employs best practices, applying a low-barrier approach: The PSH staff understand that people who are struggling with serious mental illness, and substance and alcohol abuse, need stable housing first, before they can take significant steps toward recovery and healing. Like other PSH programs, ShelterCare pairs housing with case management and other support services.

    Our current challenge rests in the fact that the U.S., and our own Lane County, do not have an adequate supply of affordable housing, which has created long wait lists. What’s more, ShelterCare and other agencies across the country are experiencing a dire shortage of qualified human service staff. While many find the work meaningful and rewarding, the pay generally isn’t enough to retain good employees long-term.

    As caring citizens, we need to advocate for people who often can’t advocate for themselves, by attending public meetings and writing letters to legislators, by stating our opinions about the need for affordable housing and services for marginalized populations.

    We need to educate private citizens in multiple forums, from City Council meetings to civic clubs and faith communities, about the barriers people with mental illness face—because a lock ’em up mentality continues to this day. Negative community attitudes are a longstanding, pervasive barrier to mental health, according to the National Library of Medicine.

    At the same time, advocates and human service workers need to discuss the fact that we will always have populations for whom we can’t remove the barriers—that is, people who aren’t willing or able to take the steps necessary to lead functional lives—even while remaining hopeful that 66 percent will improve if they participate in their own care. Remember: People with serious mental illness can and do get well. But we need to do our part to make that happen.

  • View From the Board: Sujata Sanghvi

    View From the Board: Sujata Sanghvi

    I have been a board member of ShelterCare and a donor since 2017.  When you think of an agency battling homelessness, the first picture in your mind may be of a homeless shelter or emergency housing.  When I was invited to join the Board, I went on an extensive tour of ShelterCare’s programs.  I was flabbergasted to understand how much ShelterCare does.   ShelterCare provides a myriad of services, ranging from homelessness prevention and rental assistance to transition programs such as medical recuperation housing to permanent supported housing to meet the needs of the community.   It layers a housing-first approach with extensive support including behavioral health services.  Over the past year, I have seen how ShelterCare has adjusted its programs and developed new programs in partnership with other non-profits and government agencies to meet the evolving needs of the community. 

    As someone who has worked in health care finance for the past 30 years, I am keenly aware of the relationship between health, social determinants of health, and cost. Health problems, both physical and mental, can contribute to unstable housing, which in turn can lead to worsening health, creating a negative spiral in the lives of people experiencing homelessness.  People with unstable housing are likely to suffer from worse chronic health conditions, and have lower access to regular care, resulting in greater use of inpatient and emergency services.  Arizona has been providing Permanent Supported Housing to some of its Medicaid enrollees through a waiver with the federal government.  They found a 31% reduction in emergency room visits and a 44% reduction in inpatient visits among transitioning members who were homeless or at risk of homelessness with health conditions into permanent supported housing AddressingHealthcareAndHousing_Infographic.pdf (azahcccs.gov)  Addressing Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) can be more impactful than clinical interventions in many circumstances.

    That is one of the many reasons why I am so committed to the Housing First model that ShelterCare espouses.  

    For people with chronic health conditions, housing is healthcare. 

    Investing in ShelterCare is investing in our community.


  • Living with Mental Illness

    Living with Mental Illness

    Hi. My name is Michelle; I am the CEO of ShelterCare.

    And I live with mental illness.

    There’s so much stigma associated with mental illness that when a person is diagnosed with some kind of disorder–assuming they are willing to reach out to get a diagnosis–it adds to the already existing trauma they are facing. With so many assumptions and myths about what a “mentally ill” person is (or isn’t) it’s no surprise that many of us don’t ask for help.

    And yet, mental illness is treatable and those of us who have a diagnosis can lead very full, productive lives with proper care. That care may include regular therapy, medication, diet, or other lifestyle adjustments. 

    It isn’t that different from a person who suffers from diabetes and is treated through insulin, regular blood sugar checks, diet and exercise. Sometimes the person needs a little more attention, other times they have things pretty under control.

    I have generalized anxiety disorder and atypical depression associated with chronic arthritis pain–though depending upon my doctor, one may cause the other.  I’m usually on top of my anxiety/depression with a healthy diet, regular exercise and occasional sessions with a counselor. But sometimes that’s not enough. Stressors that can trigger anxiety attacks and cycles of depression can come along unexpectedly, and aren’t always predictable. And they might not be what you’d expect! 

    Those are the days and weeks I need a little more support, an extra therapy session, or a day off from work to recuperate.

    No one feels ashamed of taking time to recover from an injury, illness, or disease, so they shouldn’t feel ashamed of taking care of their mental health either.

    I’m lucky. I’m extremely lucky. Since I was a child, I have had a family that understands that mental health is as important as physical and dental health. I have a partner who recognizes the signs that my anxiety or depression are creeping up on me and helps me get support. Because of this support, I have been able to lead a pretty “normal” life, go to school, have stable relationships, and a challenging career.

    Sadly, most people aren’t as lucky as me and that shouldn’t be acceptable. Too often, mental illness becomes a barrier to independence due to a lack of access to behavioral healthcare. Mental health becomes a barrier when a community devalues mental health, resulting in discrimination in access to housing, employment or education. 

    None of which is legal.

    But it happens. 

    ShelterCare is known for its programs that provide housing, but what the public doesn’t know is that most people referred to our services are also dealing with some form of mental illness, which may be one root cause for them being unhoused. ShelterCare has a small in-house behavioral health program that provides services for those with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) who are or have been unhoused.

    I share my story in an effort to break down the stigmas that exist around mental illness. The stigmas that our program participants and many others within our small community face. The more we talk about mental illness, the more we are able to normalize it and truly understand the needs and barriers of those who live with it.

    If you or someone you love needs immediate help for a mental health crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for free 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also use the Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor who can provide support or information.

  • REDS: Finding Alternatives to Emergency Shelters

    REDS: Finding Alternatives to Emergency Shelters

    It’s no secret that we are seeing many people in Lane County becoming homeless for the first time in their lives. In partnership with Lane County, the city of Eugene, and the city of Springfield, the Rapid Exit and Diversion Services (REDS) program was created to address this issue. ShelterCare began providing the service to our community in January of 2021. “Rapid Exit and Diversion Services is a program that is designed to assist people experiencing homelessness, or imminently facing homelessness, for a number of reasons like formal eviction or being asked to leave if you’re couch surfing,” explains Theresa, Rapid Resolution Specialist at ShelterCare. REDS works to help newly unhoused individuals avoid overwhelmed emergency shelters, and unsheltered living situations, by navigating housing options within their own social network.

    Often, program participants within REDS just need one-time financial assistance, “if any person they know is willing to offer them housing for any period of time, and they can confirm that with us, we can accommodate travel expenses to get there,” Theresa says, “we can help someone who’s offered housing by covering a utility bill, providing funds for groceries, or paying partial rent.”

    Belinda, Rapid Resolution Specialist at ShelterCare, explains another piece of what REDS does, “they might just need us to help mediate with a family member to let them come back home…that can be challenging because they may have left on bad terms due to an addiction or a falling out.”

    Diversion focuses on individuals who are newly homeless or have been experiencing homelessness for a short period of time. “We might get a call and have them diverted in a 24 hour period, it’s very quick. Sometimes we don’t even meet the person to have a diversion be successful,” explains Theresa.

    Helping program participants get into housing as quickly as possible is always the goal, but there are challenges that come with this speedy process. “I have to remind myself that I’m not a case manager, but just doing a diversion. As a case manager, you see people over and over and get to develop that relationship. We have to do it quickly and have people trust us sometimes just over the phone,” says Belinda.

    The REDS program has created an opportunity for ShelterCare to strengthen relationships with other agencies, “we also get referrals from external agencies in the area and national agencies…it’s really cool to work alongside other service providers and be part of a solution,” says Theresa, “recently we did a diversion for an asylum-seeker who was referred to us by Each Step Home – they help folks seeking asylum status is the US from Latin America.”

    Theresa explains the story further, “she came here seeking a better life for herself, her children, and her 16-year-old brother who was in a detention center in Texas on the border…she was able to reunite with her brother and he was released into her care. They came to Eugene to stay with a family member, which turned out to not be appropriate.”

    The REDS team was connected to her through the Eugene Mission where she was staying and immediately began creating a diversion plan, “we were able to secure travel for her, her two children, and her little brother, make sure they had car seats, a baby carrier, someone who could go through security with her, and someone on the other end picking her up. She flew to Dallas where a host family was able to offer her housing then help her move onto learning English, getting documentation, getting an attorney for her case, and getting employment. We worked so hard on that diversion and it was incredibly rewarding because the personal cost for that person was so great and to not follow through on that diversion would have been incredibly detrimental to her and her family,” says Theresa.

    Our Rapid Resolution Specialists make stories like this one possible. Belinda talks about how she is always trying to put her program participants first, “It’s important to make them feel like an individual, that they have a story, and that we want to hear it and help.”

    Theresa explains what inspires her to wake up and do this work each day, “Every person we engage with has value in this world regardless of history, mental health, physical health, and criminal records. They all have value and purpose and they are as deserving of assistance as everyone else is in this world. The opportunity to be part of a solution for any person in crisis or in need is incredible and something we take very seriously.”

  • Strategic Plan Summary 22′-24′

    If you have questions related to the ShelterCare Strategic Plan, please email us at scadmin@sheltercare.org
  • ShelterCare’s V.I.P. Access

    Join us for an exclusive donor party!

    Event is limited to 35 people.

    What does your V.I.P. access include:

    •One ticket to the exclusive event

    •V.I.P. gift

    •Preview auction items in person and purchase with “Buy Now” pricing; before the auction goes live to the public.

    •Exclusive raffle that only the V.I.P. attendees will be able to participate in.

    Wine and appetizers will be served. We invite you to view our beautiful administrative building, meet our board and staff, and learn more about our services!

    Event Location: ShelterCare, 499 West 4th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401

    Purchase your tickets here:


    Cannot attend? That’s okay! The virtual auction will be open for bidding from Thursday, May 12th at 8pm through Saturday May 14th at Noon!

    Safety is important to us! ShelterCare follows CDC masking recommendations. At this moment, masking will be required at the event- unless actively eating or drinking. We will continue to re-evaluate as the event draws closer and make final determinations on masking requirements in the month of May.

    If you have any questions, please call ShelterCare’s Development Department at (541) 686-1262 and ask for Cat or Alyssa.

  • ShelterCare’s Agents for Change

    Homelessness is the number one concern for community members in the Eugene/Springfield area. The community wants to know that something is being done about it. Your clients want to know that something is being done.

    With over 1,000 licensed real estate agents in Lane County, you can stand out by joining ShelterCare’s Agents for Change! Show your clients you are making a change in our community, and by working with you they are directly making an impact.

    How can you participate?

    Click your donation payment method below – you can:

    • mail a check for $1000 to ShelterCare (499 West 4th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401)
    Yes I am an Agent for Change!
    • use a credit card to donate $1000 + $22.80 processing fees online
    Yes, I am an Agent for Change!

    Payment plans available, if desired. Or consider asking your principal broker to sponsor you!

    For online donations, we kindly ask that you cover the credit card processing fees.

    After you select your payment method, you will be redirected to a page to submit your photo, brokerage, and social media handles.

    Thank you for being an

    Agent for Change!

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