Ronald’s Trek to Mental Health
ShelterCare Behavioral Health program participant, Ronald, grew up in the rural parts of Oregon where it is more difficult to find mental health services, “I’ve had insomnia my entire life, and the best solution I could get there (Klamath Falls) or in La Pine was “we got a phonebook (to read),” he explains, “Have you ever heard of a sleeping pill? They never notice if you have anxiety or depression…and they were the professionals.”
Ronald has been in Eugene now for 12 years, 11 of which he has been with ShelterCare, “I went to WhiteBird and was connected (to ShelterCare) by the therapist I was seeing there,” he explains about the referral process, “ShelterCare was the first program I got into after WhiteBird and I stayed with it because they were a really great support group for me.”
ShelterCare’s Behavioral Health program provides mental health treatment to individuals diagnosed with a mental health condition, including trauma disorders, which often are related to the trauma and stress of homelessness. Current services include individual and group therapy, skills training, case management, telehealth, and healthcare coordination.
Ronald explains how these multifaceted services have helped him, “I was with ShelterCare for a year before my social security started coming in, then they became my payee, which was useful because I am, and always have been, terrible at managing money. If it wasn’t for them (ShelterCare), I would have no money.”
ShelterCare’s therapy program has worked wonders for Ronald, “Unlike other therapists, she’s (Linet, his therapist) actually been able to break through to me, which is usually difficult. It usually takes a long time,” he says.
Ronald lives in his own apartment with his cat, “Her name is Sweet Pea. She’s a tortoise shell,” he says. Recently, there have been some issues with people blocking the entrance to the complex and loitering, “They were hanging out there overnight and not letting tenants in,” Ronald describes, “I have social anxiety, I don’t like being around people and I know other people there (his apartment complex) have the same problems.”
It can be extremely difficult for someone experiencing a mental disability to handle situations like this, but with the encouragement of Ronald’s therapist Linet, and his skills trainer, Lizzy, he says he found success speaking up for himself and other tenants, “I eventually went and talked to someone who worked on-site about doing some things that would probably help. I was able to connect with her…just reaching out like that is a stretch for me because usually, I don’t even want to leave my apartment. Since that time, they put up a fence and we now have locked gates!”
Linet has worked at ShelterCare for a total of 33 years. She says she sticks around because of the unique experiences she has each day and the support of her coworkers, “my favorite parts of working at ShelterCare are that we work as a team, and support each other in the work; and that there is never a dull moment, there is always something new to learn, something new to experience.”
Being stably housed and connected to the behavioral health services he needs allows Ronald the time and space to enjoy what he loves: watching science fiction, particularly Star Trek, with his cat! He excitedly explained, “I like science fiction – Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, Stargate…I watched Equinox part 1 and 2 (episodes from Star Trek: Voyager) before coming in today! I just found a Star Trek Channel on Pluto TV – not that I don’t own the originals on DVD, including the one you may never have seen: The Animated Series. It’s a classic! I particularly like M’Ress; she’s a cat woman!”
Ronald says he is thankful for what ShelterCare has done to help him, and many others, create a safe and stable life for themselves, “It (ShelterCare) has helped a lot of people. I think it would be good if the public knew more about what ShelterCare does for people who have been homeless and have mental issues to get them into housing, to get them off the streets, and to help them get on track.” Last year, ShelterCare helped over 1,800
individuals move forward on their journey toward housing stability and independence.
Like a true fan, Ronald says, in regards to his goal for the future, “Star Trek: Picard is out Wednesday, I’ll be watching that!”
You can make a difference in lives like Ronald’s. Support from a therapist like Linet has changed his life forever. Your donation will help us provide behavioral health services to more individuals and continue moving our program participants forward in personal growth. Will you support ShelterCare by making a donation today?
Letting Perfect Get in the Way of Progress
Michelle has been busy out in the community lately – see her above with a journalist from Germany, accepting a check from the Eugene Realtors, and at the Eugene Chamber of Commerce Celebration of business!
With the Governor’s recent executive orders recognizing homelessness as a state of emergency, there’s a mixed reaction of excitement that there is potential forward momentum in finding solutions and cynicism that the budget and policies being put forward won’t be enough to fix anything.
Admittedly, for those of us who have been working to address the needs of the unhoused for the past several years, we’re frustrated when we hear people say, “It’s about time someone does something.” Seriously? Walk a mile in our shoes! We also know how frustrating it is that, for every person we can help find and keep housing, there are ten more that we haven’t been able to serve. I heard one of my peers say the other day that even the $130 million proposed is just a drop in the bucket for what is needed for lasting results.
Hang on, everyone! This is where I’m going to start to preach.
Homelessness is a complex issue. In fact, I would argue that homelessness isn’t actually an issue but an outcome of the intersection of MANY other problems: poverty, housing scarcity, mental illness, trauma, climate change, addictions, access to education, discrimination, and so on. There’s no single, perfect, magic-wand solution that will “fix” homelessness. Because of that, it takes many different programs and agencies to focus on their expertise while collaborating with other agencies doing what they do best.
This complexity makes it look like homelessness isn’t being solved at all. But what you don’t see is that change is happening–sometimes one person or family at a time–as multiple, unique needs are being addressed.
I get it. We want to see change happen now. We want homelessness to be gone. Tomorrow.
Yet homelessness didn’t become a city (or state or even national) emergency overnight. All of those problems I mentioned before layered over themselves, year after year, as wages didn’t grow, available housing for all income levels didn’t expand, and capacity for healthcare didn’t keep up with need. Just to describe a few.
So what am I trying to say? I’m saying that every idea and every little bit of funding is important and that we can’t let finding the perfect solution get in the way of making any progress. Like the story where a child throws one starfish at a time back into the ocean and says she may not be able to help them all, what she is doing is important to the ones she can save. Being able to help those we can, should not be lost in our goal to reach everyone.
So I suggest we put aside our cynicism that there won’t be enough change, and focus on putting the strategies we do have into play because helping one person is better than helping no one.
Want to know more? Join ShelterCare on May 4th for a panel of experts answering questions on the local housing crisis! Click HERE to register.
A Home for the Holidays
I usually like to keep my blogs positive, even if the themes and issues I discuss are scary, frustrating and concerning. I like to point out how you and I can help each other and our neighbors in a call to action, or highlight the wins our community has had in the areas of homelessness and behavioral health.
This month, I find myself typing and deleting several drafts of blogs that don’t follow my typical “can do” messaging.
Perhaps it’s because this holiday season has been more challenging than most due to economic uncertainty, staffing shortages, and a housing market that has reached crisis level in the Eugene area. These alone make running a nonprofit focused on getting people into permanent supported housing a daunting task to say the least.
But not impossible.
The staff at ShelterCare have done some tremendous work this past year. The Medical Recuperation program was able to double its capacity in serving homeless individuals coming out of the hospital, after major medical treatment (thanks to partners Trillium, PeaceHealth, and PacificSource.) The Rent Relief Program was able to get over six million dollars out to landlords and keep thousands of local people in their homes, all while passing an audit to prove every dollar was spent wisely. The Birch, .370 Aid and Assist, program successfully got individuals back on their feet through housing and case management, and was awarded a grant to expand the program to reduce recidivism.
Hundreds of individuals and families have become housed through the many other permanent supportive housing programs funded through state and local dollars. It’s also important that you know that other individuals, with severe and persistent mental illness, remain housed through the support of our behavioral health clinical staff who provide therapy and skills training.
And yet… It feels like we’re up against barriers out of our control. Affordable apartments don’t exist in our community. Homelessness is the top issue in every survey sent out to our community members, and there are two solutions that we can’t seem to talk about: making it easy to build affordable housing units and eliminating poverty through livable wages for every type of employment.
Bottom-line, let’s get people into homes and keep people from losing homes when they have a personal economic disaster such as a job loss or medical emergency.
How can YOU help? If you are a landlord (or know one), work with ShelterCare on our Masterlease program. We can guarantee you’ll receive rent payment on time and make a difference in a person’s life. Make a donation to ShelterCare that isn’t program specific so we can direct it to where it’s needed most. Advocate! Come to one of our Open Houses to learn more about us and tell your friends about us. I’ll meet anyone over coffee to talk about ShelterCare. The hardest questions are the best questions.
Together, hopefully next year, we’ll make sure many more people have a home for the holidays.
Krystal’s Story : From Homelessness to The Keystone
The Keystone program houses 15 of the most chronically homeless families, with kids, in Lane County. After years of homelessness, Krystal is part of one of these families. “I have loved being here at The Keystone,” Krystal says, “three years in a van was a long time to have such a little space and then a lot of space. It’s been a bumpy road, but I’m adjusting slowly.”
Krystal has two kids, “I have a 15 year old and an 11 year old. My son, who’s the 15-year-old, will eventually transition into living here with us. He lives with his best friend now,” she explains, “my daughter is still with her father, but hopefully moving forward, that will change. I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone them.”
Krystal is determined to become the best version of herself for her kids, “I’m trying to make it up now and prove to them, ‘I’ve got this, it’s okay.’”
Krystal has a long history with homelessness, “I have been homeless more often than I have not, my entire life,” she explains. Her most recent 3-year stint of homelessness began when she left her ex, “I came out of an 18 year abusive relationship with no credit, no rental history, no anything and without any of those things, no one’s giving you a chance. Thousands of dollars spent on application fees to just be told no. I worked a full-time job, most of that time, and still couldn’t afford to just survive. Rent is outrageously expensive here. It was every roadblock put in place just to have more.”
Krystal’s story is one of overcoming not only abuse and homelessness, but also managing mental illness, “I’m bipolar and had a complete mental breakdown and was reaching out for any kind of help. I happened to find somebody who said, “have you done a front door assessment?’” A front door assessment gathers information about a person including the barriers they face and characteristics that make them more vulnerable while homeless, to add them to the county managed Centralized Waitlist for getting into housing. Krystal said the process went quickly for her, “They did it that day. Next thing I know, I was getting a call from Lauryn.”
Lauryn is a Housing Specialist at ShelterCare’s Housing Services for Families program and spends most of her time at The Keystone. She explains that her favorite part of this job is seeing her client’s progress, “They come into this program, like Krystal, right off the streets. Watching them grow and be able to have a home and achieve things they never thought they could do is amazing.”
Lauryn is a big part of the network of support that ShelterCare program participants are provided with, “We always set up goals with them, when they move in, and we update them monthly,” she explains.
Now that Krystal is in stable housing with a network of support, she talks about what her personal goals look like moving forward, “Prioritizing my time for the things I need to is my biggest goal right now. Focussing on my health and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.” Krystal says that the staff at ShelterCare are a big part of her success, “They have kept me on track more than once. Without them, I would not be here and I would not be as okay as I am.”
Krystal now has more time and space for her favorite hobby, “me and my fiancé rock hunt and hand process everything, make jewelry out of it, then give it away. It’s a family activity.” Krystal jokes, “Our house is probably more rock than anything!”
Despite her struggles, Krystal wants to make the world a better place for others, “Three years being homeless has humbled me in a way I didn’t realize could happen. I found the love of my life and got to realize there’s something bigger out there that I want to do – I want to help people. I want to make sure other people know that they aren’t alone.” She even plans to host a community dinner for the holidays in her new home, “I’m doing an open door Christmas!” she exclaimed excitedly, “if you don’t have somewhere to go, my door will be open.”
You can make a difference in lives like Krystal’s. Support from a Housing Specialist like Lauryn and a stable place to live has changed both her and her children’s lives forever. Your donation will help us house more families and individuals before the next holiday season and continue moving our program participants forward in personal growth. Will you make a donation today to support ShelterCare’s work of providing housing and support services to chronically homeless families?
My Experience as a Development Intern
By Chloe Scheid
My name is Chloe and I am a junior at the University of Oregon working on my Bachelor of Arts. I am majoring in psychology and minoring in nonprofit administration. These interests led me to apply for an internship with ShelterCare. When I imagined what my future career might look like, I saw myself working at a nonprofit that increases access to mental health care. I really admired how ShelterCare contributes to this mission and brings safety and housing to those that need it most. I have spent the last 10 weeks interning with the Development department which is a small but mighty department responsible for all things fundraising as well an array of other projects. Development is what makes nonprofits run and I was thrilled to be a part of that.
Much of the work I get to do is the little details; but the little details are exactly what makes ShelterCare special. Every day is different. Some days I’m volunteering at the Run For Your Life zombie themed 5k and some days I’m addressing envelopes to express our gratitude to our donors. No task is insignificant to me.
However, some of the most rewarding work I’ve gotten to do is the big stuff. One of my favorite projects was helping to research and order items to make move-in kits for individuals and families moving into housing. I knew that everything I chose was an item that would become part of someone’s household and I knew how much that would mean to the people receiving it. After a spreadsheet of items was ordered, our office was soon filled to the brim with boxes not to mention the back of my car when I went to retrieve pick up orders (side note: certain retail locations get very confused when you pick up 14 toilet plungers!). Helping people on their journey to housing in this way really made me feel like I was making an impact in their lives.
Another great project I got to be involved in was grant writing. I had taken one grant writing class at school but hadn’t yet gotten to use those skills in real life. It was incredibly valuable to be able to use those skills and build on them as I got feedback. I was able to work on a lot of practical writing skills that will help me in my future career. I also wrote a radio ad, many outreach emails, and several social media posts all of which I got feedback and edits on to improve my skills.
I was also able to connect with other staff members at ShelterCare and people from other nonprofits that gave me advice for my education and career that I would have never been able to get otherwise. This experience empowered me with knowledge and information about working in nonprofits as well as strengthened my skills and prepared me for a future career. I am so glad that I chose to apply at ShelterCare and that I was given the opportunity to help with so many diverse projects. I will take all of these skills and experiences with me through my education and career and ShelterCare will always have a place in my heart.
October is often referred to as ‘Pinktober’ as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I mention this because, as a breast cancer survivor of eight years, it obviously strikes a chord with me on a personal level. Some of you can relate with me, remembering how traumatic it was to first go through several progressively invasive tests and finally receiving the phone call from my doctor letting me know that I was indeed diagnosed with cancer.
I was “lucky.” My cancer was found in the earliest stages because I had good preventative healthcare and, because of my early detection, I had options for treatment that might not have been available if I’d put off my annual mammogram.
I was privileged. I had the resources to get treatment. Dependable shelter and nutrition for recovery. A network of family and friends to help with childcare, meals, and errands. Full disclosure, it was a bit more difficult as my husband was ALSO diagnosed with cancer the same week I was. (We should have bought a lottery ticket, right?)
But still, six months later, after a bilateral mastectomy, I was getting back on my feet and trying to find my new normal. My son made a cartoon ‘Survivor Superhero’ for me, and while I didn’t feel very super, I managed to get to work and move on, perhaps a little wiser from the experience.
Now imagine my story, but take out the access to preventative healthcare so that diagnosis isn’t made until later cancer stages. Now imagine no dependable shelter or food. Now imagine no network of support.
This is all too frequently the story of the unhoused. The fastest growing demographic of unhoused people is senior women, often due to a health crisis.
If you have faced your own cancer (or other serious disease) diagnosis, you know that no matter how early the stage, treatment is painful and takes every ounce of energy for recovery. I couldn’t raise my arms or hold anything heavier than a cell phone for months. I cannot fathom trying to recover while living in a tent, not knowing how secure I am or where my next meal will be.
The ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) program works in partnership with Trillium, PacificSource, and PeaceHealth to identify literally homeless patients who have had traumatic diagnoses and treatments and need a safe, secure place to stay while they recover. These patients are recovering from cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, and many other serious health issues, but are not serious enough to need hospital care. ShelterCare staff provides housing search support for when they’re ready to leave SMR and helps them navigate the healthcare system so that they continue to receive ongoing health care as needed. We have only 19 units available…a drop in the bucket to meet the need.
So this October, as we wear our pink and promote breast cancer awareness, take a moment to think about what YOU would do if you got the worst news you could imagine…and had nowhere to go. Then thank the many people who make ShelterCare Medical Recuperation possible.
– Michelle Hankes, ShelterCare CEO
Rob’s Fight Against Cancer
Hearing your doctor say, “you have cancer,” is a nightmare for anyone. Now imagine facing that diagnosis without having a safe place to go home to, throughout treatment. That is what ShelterCare program participant, Rob, experienced, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. “During COVID, there weren’t places to just go. It was the day before my birthday, in 2020, that I got diagnosed (with colon cancer) – I got surgery instead of cake that year. With the help of someone at Willamette Valley Cancer, I got into ShelterCare’s Medical Recuperation program – I didn’t even know it existed!” Rob explains.
ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) is a 19-bed facility that provides safe, emergency shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness and have recently been discharged from the hospital after an acute medical episode, yet still require limited care. Rob talked about his experience living there, “At SMR, every morning, staff is on the intercom asking how you’re doing. They would control my meds for me too.” One of his favorite parts was the food, “The guy who cooked over there, Boyd, he really tried for variety. We had trout one time! I took pictures of it!”
Rob described the treatment process he went through, “I had my first ostomy surgery the day after my diagnosis…then a couple of weeks went by and I started a combination of oral chemo and radiation. I did that for 6-8 weeks. Then there’s six weeks of recovery…you suddenly become an old doddering guy who uses a cane! Then it was time for infusion chemotherapy…I did that for four months.”
The long process meant that Rob couldn’t stay at SMR for all of it, “I was having surgery and I was in the ICU at McKenzie (McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center) when my stay in the SMR program terminated and I had to be over at the other place (ShelterCare Short Term Housing) now.” He explains what it meant to him that ShelterCare staff were able to make everything work in order to keep him housed throughout treatment, “I have no idea what I would’ve done had there not been ShelterCare programs. It was the perfect thing at the perfect time each time.”
The symptoms Rob experienced while going through cancer treatment meant he needed extra support, “I remember when I did chemotherapy at SMR, it was one of the weirdest things I ever did. I lived in my head a lot. A thought would just go out of my head like smoke and go poof. I had no idea what I had asked, if I’d even asked a question, or if I’d even had a thought. I tried really hard to keep my thoughts organized, but they just didn’t survive…so it was cool to have staff telling me I needed to get on housing waitlists.” SMR provides program participants like Rob with case management and resource navigation as well as everything they need to safely recover, such as three meals a day, medication monitoring, and transportation to appointments.
It’s hard to know what to expect when beginning cancer treatment. One thing Rob wasn’t expecting was having to experience addiction and withdrawal during the process, due to being prescribed OxyContin during treatment, “I was on Oxy. I was pretty sure I was addicted and I wanted to go through a (addiction) program, but not when I had four different machines attached to me.” Rob ended up tapering off the Oxy too fast triggering a withdrawal, “I had CAHOOTS in for a couple days in a row. The third day, the triage person at Riverstone (clinic) said I needed to go to the ER and get fluids. They put one bag in and it was still too low. They put another bag in and pow I came back! A few days later, I had my last Oxy!“
The whole experience was a wake up call for Rob, “I have discovered there’s a lot of meaningful reality to the phrase ‘medically fragile’,” he explained, “It’s like being new again and that’s freaking scary!”
Rob has won his battle against cancer and is now living in his own place, where he still has staff available to check in with him through his recovery, “They have a wellness check here – you have to hang it outside your door by 10:00 P.M. and if you don’t, they check on you. They also check on you in the morning.” He says his recovery is going well, “I just talked to the doctor this morning and asked if I’m cleared for the treadmill and he said yes!”
“I am on the 13th floor here – I looked out my window and saw a hawk fly right past one time! I have imposter syndrome here, “Really? This is for me??” Rob humbly explains, “I feel like I owe now because of these programs; I have to figure out a way to give back – a lot. I would’ve been not doing well in a cardboard box.”
“Now that I’ve moved in here, I’ve got at least a year to work on finding out what my new boundaries are and what I can do,” says Rob, pondering what’s next for him, “There aren’t going to be big wins all the time. You’re going to have to look at the small wins and acknowledge them.”
ShelterCare’s Medical Recuperation program provides the support that helps people like Rob safely recover from a variety of medical diagnoses, such as cancer.
The Why Behind My Drive
From a very young age, I became deeply committed to helping others. My story is not a heartfelt one but is important to why I feel the drive and commitment to giving back to my community. My mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was two years old, she was barely entering her twenties. Unfortunately, she did not have a good support system nor did she always get the help she needed or deserved. She quickly went down a path involving drugs and alcohol, which led to a very unstable life for us all. I can remember many instances of being homeless, spending nights in shelters, sleeping in a vehicle, and the feeling of hunger. It made for a rough childhood and I was forced to grow up quickly. I had to step up to care for my younger siblings and at times, my mother herself. We moved from city to city and never really had a stable foundation.
Unfortunately, my brothers and I were eventually taken from her. We were separated and placed into foster homes when I was eleven years old, my brothers being four and eight. We were never to be placed in her care again. My mother continued to be in and out of state hospitals and correction facilities. None of them truly ever helped her and maybe never heard her cries for help. She lost her battle with mental illness and addiction shortly after I turned nineteen. It forever changed our lives. Although it was a hard way to grow up, my childhood shaped me into the person I am today. I have strived to take my hardship and shape it into something beautiful.
Every one of us is vulnerable at any given point in time because of our individual life circumstances. Everyone has a story that has shaped who they are today. My life experiences have not crippled me, although it has encouraged my connection to public welfare and inspired me to serve others. I have always felt whole when I have a hand in a positive change for those who are struggling, marginalized, and overlooked by most of our society.
I have witnessed and experienced the struggles of mental illness, addiction, and a lack of a system that truly can help people. Our nation seems to not take addiction or mental health issues seriously enough to make real changes to the systems in place. Many people are influenced by the negative stigma and preconceptions associated with mental illness and addiction. Those with mental illnesses are all too commonly subjected to negative stigmas and brushed aside as if they do not matter. I strive to be a part of something that changes that and why I have found myself working for ShelterCare.
ShelterCare is one of the largest advocates in Lane County for the community that struggles with mental illness, homelessness, and who are medically fragile. ShelterCare is an agency that focuses its efforts on serving individuals and families, who are chronically homeless or in danger of becoming homeless and wanting a safe and stable place to call home in our community. We focus our efforts on creating a stable foundation by focusing on providing safe and secure housing so that other basic life needs can fall into place. ShelterCare has many different housing programs that seem to fit the differences in the needs of the community we serve. Our services range from short-term housing for individuals and families to a medical recuperation shelter, permanent housing solutions, and behavioral health support. It is a large umbrella of services that can help at any phase of the homelessness pandemic in our community and keeps supported services going even after being housed, to promote successful transitions.
Our participants range from all walks of life with one horrible thing in common, homelessness. Every one of us deserves a fighting chance. If you are able, please reach out and help a person in need. One small gesture can change a person’s world. Please consider donating to ShelterCare and making a difference today.
Jessica Shafer (she/her)
Permanent Supported Housing
My Day with REDS: Meeting People Where They Are
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
“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?