The Portland Bureau of Transportation this summer provided a grant for up to 70 residents of Catholic Charities low income housing to increase their options for getting around.

The transportation gift cards — more than $300 per person — are having an effect.

One elder Somali woman used her card to buy a senior bus pass. Thrilled, she told Catholic Charities staffer Elizabeth Gern she feels liberated and has been visiting friends in other parts of town.

“She feels so connected,” said Gern. “That is just beautiful.”

Catholic Charities applied for one of the Transportation Wallet grants and city officials realized they had been focusing too much on the middle class in the effort to get people out of personal cars. A plan emerged to offer the cards to the refugee community at Kateri Park in Southeast Portland.

“Sometimes refugees don’t get caught up on new technologies of transport,” said Rose Bak, director of housing and homeless services for Catholic Charities. She has observed Somali women with large numbers of children riding the bus to the grocery store and coming home with a dozen brimming grocery sacks — an inefficient trip.

“We wondered if they’d consider Uber or Lyft,” said Bak.

Though no transportation revolution took place, some families have tried car share and students who attend Portland Community College seem to be using the gift cards for electric scooters.

Especially for older residents, the language barrier was formidable. But after the city gave away the cards and threw a transportation fair with interpreters at Kateri Park to explain car hailing, bike sharing and scooter rental, some residents felt comfortable enough to begin exploring. Others have used the $300 to fill their bus fare cards.

“Kids are helping the moms learn,” said Bak. “People all over are so excited. It is nice to see them open up.”

Gern, resident services coordinator at Kateri Park, said that most residents who have jobs have cars. But the Transportation Wallet gives them more options than the bus, which is good but not always at the odd hours low-income people work. Those who work in Beaverton or Vancouver face a long bus ride with transfers from inner Southeast Portland. And new workers need time to save up for a car, Gern said.

Students at public high schools already get free bus passes and there tends to be free or low cost medical transport. But refugees face challenges getting to college, job interviews and shopping.

“We are very excited because it’s an opportunity for our residents to learn more about transportation options they don’t normally use, and it’s a great financial benefit,” said Deacon Rick Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities.

Some children at Kateri Park love to bicycle. A nearby bicycle shop allows the youngsters to work in return for a bike.