Kenton Women’s Village is the result of innovative solutions to homelessness in Portland. The initiative by Catholic Charities of Oregon is shifting from the one-size-fits-all model to address homelessness by creating a safe place for women to regain their independence, receive medical care and find employment. 

According to the 2019 point-in-time count, the homeless population in Multnomah County decreased over the preceding two years. That despite a housing market that continues to fail people with disabilities and push long-term residents out of their neighborhoods through gentrification.

The most recent data released by the Joint Office of Homeless Services shows a decrease from 4,177 two years ago, to some 4,015 individuals seeking emergency shelter or transitional housing or identified as living without shelter. In 2019 the number of people identifying as female in the count was down 10% compared to 2017. This reduction is partly due to the commitment by Catholic Charities to reduce unsheltered homelessness. 

Kenton Village opened in 2017 with space for 14 pods, designed and built as part of the Partners on Dwelling Initiative, a collaborative effort to creatively address homelessness in the region.

The community of tiny homes needed to move from the initial location at the end of 2018 because the site was being redeveloped for housing. The village relocated a few blocks up the road and re-opened in March 2019. Kenton can house up to 20 women at the new site.

By expanding efforts through partnerships with local government, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, Kenton Women’s Village has created an effective transitional housing solution for women experiencing homelessness in the city.

Each villager is assigned a small sleeping pod; it has a room for a bed and some storage. There are shared kitchen, bathroom and shower facilities. 

The women who move in have been homeless for an average of six years and the average age is 45, according to Rose Bak, chief program officer at Catholic Charities of Oregon. 

The model created by Kenton is designed to support the transition that women go through.

“We provide wraparound intensive case management focused on four domains: housing, financial stability, social connection and emotional resilience,” Bak said. 

The ultimate goal of the model is to help the women learn to obtain identification cards, find mental health counseling and addiction treatment, secure employment or disability income, see a primary care physician, enroll in the Oregon Health Plan and move into housing.

“We also help them learn to live in community and participate in group activities like movie nights, volunteering in the neighborhood, hosting tables at local festivals and birthday parties,” said Bak.

Kenton is an example of the importance of collaboration, both in the approach to the solution and in the resources needed to launch a successful initiative. Skills, resources, knowledge and experiences focused on a shared objective was the key to success, project leaders said.

“Kenton Women’s Village is a such a special program,” said Bak. “Watching the women go through their journeys to recover from the trauma of homelessness is incredible. There’s nothing better than the celebration we have when someone gets accepted into housing and moves into their new place — sometimes for the first time in years.”

The community support was fundamental to the success of the project. “We have enjoyed exceptional support from the Kenton Neighborhood Association, who voted to allow us in originally and then voted to allow us to stay and move to our new site,” Bak said. 

It created local engagement and encouraged groups to lead, plan, organize, develop and deliver a project. Kenton benefits from strong partnerships in the community, including with nearby Holy Redeemer Church, which provides meals for the villagers every month. Other strong partners are the PSU Homelessness Research Center, Providence Health Plan, Kaiser Permanente and Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. 

Kenton is leaving behind a sustainable legacy in the form of strong working networks committed to solving problems and confronting chronic homelessness, according to Catholic Charities staff. 

“We couldn’t do what we do without the generous support of our partners,” said Bak. “Whether it’s driving a villager to the laundromat, helping someone furnish their new apartment, helping plant a community garden or just making sure that everyone has presents on Christmas, we can always rely on the community to come through for us. The village is truly a community endeavor.”

— Patricia Montana, El Centinela