How can we help individuals overcome barriers to housing? The City of Hood River has contracted with Alisa Fowler, a licensed clinical social worker, to provide direct outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness. Fowler specializes in mental health and housing with a commitment to the model of “housing as healthcare.”
“Individuals and families served through this program meet the HUD definition of homelessness, sleeping outside in tents or on the street, in vehicles or RVs with no utilities, in places not meant for habitation,” Fowler explains. “Community members living ‘doubled-up’ or ‘couch surfing’ are also eligible for case management assistance through Gorge Outreach.”
In the first six weeks of the City’s program, 33 individuals have been contacted by referral or street outreach. Ten households are actively engaged in housing placement and case management services. Other contacts are in the process of program enrollment, have declined services at this time, or are already connected to ongoing housing placement services.
Fowler is lead program coordinator for Gorge Outreach (a program of Community Action Partnership of Oregon) which began in the early days of the pandemic to provide temporary housing to the houseless community through hotel vouchers. Based on that program’s success, and with a grant from Providence Foundation, Hood River Mayor Kate McBride convened a working group to assess services available to homeless individuals and identify gaps in services. Outreach services was one gap identified. With remaining grant funds, the City of Hood River contracted with Fowler to provide these services part-time.
“We have more work to do to effectively address the complex issue of homelessness, but I am so pleased in how the community came together to work through this issue,” Mayor Kate McBride said. “And I’m pleased that the City of Hood River stepped up to continue outreach services that were so effective during the pandemic.”
Fowler’s case management includes linking individuals to social services and healthcare providers, opportunities for placement in permanent or transitional housing, and basic needs resources such as food boxes, hygiene supplies, clothing and winter gear. Supplies have been purchased with grant funds or received through donations. For those wanting to donate supplies, contact Fowler directly. She also works with individuals to identify barriers to housing (such as lack of current ID or recent rental history, poor credit or insufficient income) and how to overcome those barriers. In addition to direct outreach, data on the homeless population is collected and reported that could help the community secure federal funds.
Chief Neal Holste of theHood River Police Department is eager to collaborate more with Fowler. “I’m excited about Alisa’s passion and experience to address some of the challenges law enforcement encounters when responding to homelessness concerns,” Chief Holste said. “Alisa’s community involvement and knowledge of available resources provide resources beyond the scope of law enforcement.”
Hood River County residents experiencing homelessness and community partners seeking basic needs and housing assistance can contact Gorge Outreach by leaving a message or text at 971-238-4438 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Hours and availability vary depending on scheduled outreach activities, severe weather response, and collaborations with community partners.
The City of Hood River homelessness stakeholder group will reconvene in February to prioritize long-term action items. Long-term actions include identifying a lead organization to provide homeless services.