Michael lingered, on the walkway leading to their door, to touch the seesaw and playground spring riders just outside. Both of them noticed things like the fireplace and the bathtub.
And then there was the fridge, ready and waiting with food. Michael cheered at the mac and cheese, and then the pumpkin pie -- just in time for Thanksgiving. He could tell what kind of pie it was, he said, pointing to the label, “because there’s a pumpkin on top.”
Andrea and Michael were among the first three families to move from shelter and into apartments this month through Multnomah County and Portland’s Home for the Holidays campaign. The campaign, launched Nov. 13, is a push to help 40 families leave shelter by Jan. 15.
Andrea and Michael had been in Human Solutions’ Family Center at SE 162nd Avenue and Stark since July. Longer stays are increasingly common, with high housing prices and low vacancy rates making it more difficult for families to find units they can afford. But on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, they were finally settling into a place of their own, in downtown St. Johns.
Andrea said she was glad for the stability and safety of an apartment, a place where she and her 4-year-old son could do simple things other families might take for granted: take baths, cook meals and eat together at a private table.
“This isn’t about me,” Andrea said. “It’s about him.”
Andrea and Michael are staying in a unit provided by WDC Properties, through its multifamily apartment brand ekoLiving. Home for the Holidays is built around a call to landlords and property owners willing to step up and contribute available units.
In return, the county’s three family shelter providers, Human Solutions, Community of Hope and Portland Homeless Family Solutions will work with families and landlords to find a fit and offer support services meant to help families be successful.
Many families in shelter have the incomes or subsidies they need to thrive in an apartment. It’s just taking longer for them to find a place than ever before.
WDC’s team said they heard about the push through media reports after it launched and contacted Human Solutions. They want to encourage other landlords to do the same. Later Wednesday, another family was set to move into an ekoLiving unit. Owner Mark Madden has offered up to eight additional units to help families transition out of shelter.
"We wish the families a very happy holiday season,” WDC Properties said in a statement. “We hope other owners and developers will join this program to provide more families with shelter this winter."
So far, response to the campaign has been overwhelming. In addition to the units offered by WDC Properties, housing navigators at the county’s three shelter providers are working down a list of nearly three-dozen other apartments they hope will be good matches for families ready for the opportunity. Another mom and her daughter moved into an apartment of their own on Tuesday.
Partners in the campaign also want neighbors to get involved even if they don’t have an apartment to offer. Anyone can donate household goods and furniture to the Community Warehouse, at 3969 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as well as gift cards to stores like Fred Meyer. That’s particularly important, given what partners hope will be a surge in families moving into homes of their own.
Families surviving in shelter often don’t have many belongings, and certainly don’t have the furnishings that turn an empty apartment into a home. Normally, it can take as long as a week or more for a provider to obtain those things. WDC Properties donated furnishings for Andrea’s apartment on Wednesday.
Michael sat on the couch for a while, then went back outside to the playground. Eventually, he headed for the fridge again, where he pulled out the mac and cheese one more time. Andrea removed the lid and put the container in the microwave.
Michael wanted it not just in a bowl, but in all three of the plates stacked underneath it. It was his first meal in their new home. Andrea said she hopes the stability of the apartment will help her job search and get Michael started in kindergarten.
She was going to spend the rest of her first day relaxing and settling in. But she had other plans for Thanksgiving.
Just for the night, she said, she was going to go back to Human Solutions’ shelter to have a holiday dinner. She’s on her own now, she said, but she wanted to give thanks with all the friends she found, and all of the staffers who helped change her life.