GRESHAM, Ore. (Gresham Outlook) — One December morning, a woman walked into Gresham City Hall needing help.
She was homeless and wanted connections to services and support. She was ready to get off the street.
Within minutes Aaron Sando was chatting with her in the lobby. That afternoon, Gresham’s Homeless Services Specialist was able to secure her a spot in the local women’s shelter with a path forward to permanent housing.
“She is off the streets, got a bed, showers, and hot meals,” Sando said while giving Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis a tour of the Springwater Corridor Trail. “It’s a good point for her to get started.”
Gresham has been dealing with the homelessness issue ever since it reached a crisis level in 2015. Sando was hired in 2016 and since then, the city has been able to get a handle on providing support for homeless individuals that stands out regionally.
“It has gotten better — when I came in it was chaos,” Sando said. “(We) are helping people, redirecting them to services they didn’t know are out there.”
The Homeless Outreach team, helmed by Sando and his colleague Kevin Dahlgren, have been hard at work creating relationships with different groups across the community. Rather than simply being an enforcement arm of City Hall, punishing homeless individuals, the pair communicate and try to ease people into better situations.
“We want to make sure this is legitimate and something they want,” Sando said.
Gresham’s take on homelessness has been walking a delicate balance between supporting vulnerable people throughout the city while maintaining neighborhood livability. The result has been housing more than 100 people since the summer — a total that excludes short-term solutions like shelters or hotels. Sando further estimates since his first day working for the city he has helped 536 people, ranging from housing, job connections, cell phones, or even a ride back home.
The result is perhaps nowhere more apparent than along the Springwater Trail, which had been a hotspot for illegal camping and trash. The city has declared Gresham’s portion, from Southeast Jenne Road to the 17.9 mile marker at the east end of Gresham, virtually free of homeless campers since this summer. A large portion of thanks go to Sando and Dahlgren, who spend their weeks going to every corner of Gresham. Dahlgren’s pedometer showed he walked almost 2.5 million steps, or 1,089 miles, this past year during his rounds.
“We put our heart, soul, mind into this,” Sando said.