Did you know domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women? Rose Haven is a trauma-informed day shelter for women, children, and marginalized genders. Its new space opened on March 8, 2022, after nearly two years of operating from tents in the COVID era.
PDX Local interviews Liz Starke, Development Director for Rosehaven.org.
As a day shelter, what services do you offer?
Rose Haven is a safe place designed with a trauma informed lens where you can go during the hours when many overnight shelters are closed. We offer a secure mailing address, access to meals, showers, restrooms, clothing, first aid, financial assistance and one-on-one advocacy for our guests. Most importantly, we offer community and dignity to a population facing extreme stigma and isolation. Currently, Oregon has the second highest rate of literally unsheltered people in the country- that is our neighbors living outside, in cars or in tents. All of the night shelters are full with wait lists, so we play an important role by bridging the gaps in services and offering help to all those folks not lucky enough to get a shelter bed. For example, if we had 40 beds that would mean we could help 40 people, in our model we are able to serve thousands of women and children a year.
What is the story of Rose Haven? How did it get started?
Rose Haven has been an important resource for women and children experiencing trauma in Portland for 25 years. We were founded in 1997 as a program of Catholic Charities after our founding director, Sr. Cathie Boerboom conducted a survey where she walked the streets of Portland and asked women what they needed. The overwhelming response was a safe place to go during the day, where they could take their children and access resources. Twenty-five years later we are still offering programs based off of our guests’ self-defined needs; offering a low-barrier and accessible community resource center where women can meet physical and emotional needs, access social services and find community. Although not a religious organization, Rose Haven operates under the Good Shepherd value system which embodies “Compassion”, “Individual Worth”, “Reconciliation” and “Zeal”.
What special challenges do women and children face when they are homeless?
For women, it is especially dangerous to live outside and constantly be exposed. Women are sometimes referred to as “the hidden homeless”, because they go to great lengths to stay out of sight and not look vulnerable in order to stay safe. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women, and unfortunately once they are outside they are even more likely to experience violence. This is why a sanctuary specifically for people marginalized by their gender is so important, because otherwise these women have to face their predators just to receive help in a co-ed space.
How have your mission and service offerings changed in the era of COVID?
COVID made our jobs really hard, but ultimately forced us to move into our dream home. Prior to the pandemic, we were functioning out of a very cozy ( some might call it cramped) church basement…where we were serving about 3,700 people a year- about 100 people a day! Needless to say we couldn’t socially distance in that space – so we had to make the really hard choice to push supply distribution to the sidewalk in order to keep our guests safe. For nearly two years we served up meals and clothing on the sidewalk, even doing first aid under a tent. Our guests only came inside to use the restroom, take a shower or meet one on one with a social worker – and for many this was their only opportunity to come indoors at all, as many agencies closed entirely during the lockdown. We knew Rose Haven was needed now more than ever before, and we had to expand. We launched a grassroots fundraising campaign and with the support of the community we opened our new home for the haven on March 8th 2022. We now have a beautiful 10k square ft facility that was designed with a trauma informed lens so our guests can feel at ease and heal when they are here. The visibility of our new location has brought attention to the issues our guests are facing and given them a home they can feel proud of.
What is the number one thing that people in Portland can do to make life better for our neighbors without homes?
Be compassionate. The most dangerous thing our guests face is stigma and isolation. They tell me they feel invisible and on display at the same time. It is so much easier to walk right past a person that is starving in front of you if you think of them as “other” than yourself. For example when you think of someone who is going through a hard time as a homeless person, rather than your neighbor that does something on a subconscious level to separate you from them. Unfortunately as more people are displaced, more of us know someone in our personal circle who has fallen on hard times, but we are not defined by our worst moments. I think the more we can do to bust myths (such as the magnet myth- which is the idea that people move out here to become homeless, when the truth is more than 80% of chronically homeless folks in Multnomah county went to high school here) and humanize our houseless neighbors, the better off we will all be. Just be kind to each other, and don’t be afraid of people if they are sick or hungry. Sometimes a smile can really change someone’s day, especially for someone who is used to being ignored or having people cross the street to avoid them.