December 6, 2019

Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson visit with residents at the Laurelwood Center on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
PORTLAND — Celebrating a “new generation of shelters where we don’t just provide warmth and safety,” Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann on Friday joined Gov. Kate Brown for a holiday tour with residents and staff from the Laurelwood Center on S.E. Foster Road.

The 120-bed County-constructed shelter for women and couples — with a clinic, commercial kitchen and case managers, plus space for pets and personal belongings — opened in August.

Ever since, neighbors and community members, including some who raised strong concerns about the shelter before it opened, have lined up to help out and give their time and love.

“When I look around at this shelter, I see the critical services people need to end their homelessness,” Chair Kafoury said Friday after a tour led by Transition Projects, the nonprofit paid by the County and city of Portland to operate the shelter. “And I see a welcoming neighborhood right outside, with bus lines to help people connect to the things that we all need.”

That embrace of Laurelwood shows the success of Multnomah County and Portland’s transformed approach to shelter, making it easier for people to come in from the cold while also providing intentional pathways back to housing.

Importance of providing services close to communities

But just as important, it shows the power of combining services with community support. 

At a time when some local voices have joined the Trump administration in demanding massive warehouse-style facilities on the fringes of the community — at the expense of neighborhood-based shelters where people actually want to be — Laurelwood serves as a center of hope.

“Because ending homelessness must include being a part of the community, and not further isolating people,” the Chair said. “The Laurelwood Center is the perfect example of inclusivity.”

Chair Deborah Kafoury embraces a participant at the Laurelwood Center on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
As part of the tour, the elected officials met with three residents at Laurelwood and then with a special mobile team, led by Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, that travels to shelters when called to help with behavioral health issues.

Afterward, Gov. Brown put the need for community connections into context when she noted that many participants staying at Laurelwood Center are working, some full time, but still can't afford housing. Staying in a shelter that’s close to transit and part of a neighborhood can make it all the easier for someone to keep their job.  

She also spoke about neighbors who’d stepped up to support shelter residents — mentioning the principal of the Mt. Scott Learning Center, who’d joined a steering committee of neighbors working through concerns about the shelter before it opened.

Since the shelter’s opening day in August, the governor said, he’s “become a vocal advocate for increased meals at the shelter and more volunteer shifts for students to prepare and help serve meals.” 

Another nearby business owner, she said, has steadfastly signed up to donate time and goods to sustain the shelter. 

“This community in Southeast Portland has welcomed this program,” she said. “Community engagement can make all of the difference.”

Positive comments about shelter

Commissioner Vega Pederson, whose district in Southeast Portland includes the shelter, presided over the shelter steering committee. She forged relationships with neighbors, some opposed and some in support, to win unanimous approval of a good neighbor agreement.

“Over eight months we worked together as a group to answer questions and address concerns and, really, come together to build what you see before you,” she said. “We maintained our mutual respect and trust throughout.” 

She said that work serves as a “backbone” for the relationships that are bearing fruit now.

Since August, “every comment I’ve heard has reflected positively on this shelter,” she said. “It’s clear that it’s become a strong part of this community.”

Commissioner Lori Stegmann, Chair Deborah Kafoury, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson and Gov. Kate Brown speak with shelter participants at the Laurelwood Center on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Gov. Kate Brown and Chair Deborah Kafoury speaking at the Laurelwood Center on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Chair Deborah Kafoury, center, and Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, right, with a participant at Laurelwood Center on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.