PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the City of Portland and Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services works to expand the ranks of its Navigation Teams, or specialized social workers who go into homeless camps to navigate people to mental health, addiction and housing services, there are others who are also on the ground.
Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare is one of 15 organizations funded by the Joint Office of Homeless Services to work with people who are homeless.
Kim James, the clinical director of Homeless and Housing Support at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, says there’s an outreach worker somewhere in Portland every day.
Her team currently has eight workers but hopes to expand to 11 to meet the demand for street- and camp-level outreach, which is done in partnership with the Portland Police Bureau and other organizations to identify those who Cascadia can try to help.
“Everybody on the street is not mentally ill and everybody on the street may or may not need substance use services,” James said. “We have to get to the bottom of what’s behind this and figure out what each person needs. You cannot generalize.”
During the height of the pandemic, Cascadia’s Street Outreach team served nearly 1,200 people and moved 76 individuals or families from the street into housing.
It’s a slow process because workers have to gain trust one person at a time.
“We went to one woman, we gave her a bottle of water every day. She would throw it back at us [but] one day, she drank out of it. Whoa, we were excited. After that, continually going back, I think sometimes we run into some community members who want it fixed right now. And we have to remind them that this didn’t happen overnight, but we are working on it.”
Cascadia’s other team, Housing Outreach, worked with 418 people to keep them in housing while placing 41 new people into supportive housing and providing short-term rent assistance to 114 others.
However, even when workers successfully get someone into housing, the job isn’t over.
“Those first few days after we house someone, we spend an intensive seven days to make sure that they’re inside, they’re okay. They can call. They can come out. They can talk to us,” James said. “We try to make sure that we understand being housed is just as stressful as being outside. It’s a whole new setup. And some of the folks that we’ve placed, they’re a little afraid.”
Some of the other groups out there helping people include volunteer doctors with Portland Street Medicine, the Native American Youth and Family Center and others that are culturally specific.
Overall, the goal is to increase the number of outreach workers from 47 to 85 this year, including the Navigation Teams going from five people to 21, which will work on the most severe camps.