Escaping homelessness can feel impossible. This shelter's making it easier.

When you're homeless, finding a clean place where you feel safe can seem impossible.

Homeless shelters used to be nearly identical: they offered temporary shelter for a few hours a night. In most cities, people started lining up for shelters well before dusk. They'd get a meal and a few hours of sleep in a crowded room before being sent back out early in the morning. And shelter for the next night would not be guaranteed.

While these types of shelters certainly still exist, they’re no longer the only option. In fact, more and more city governments are changing the way they think about fighting homelessness, moving away from a model where temporary shelter is seen as a solution to situational and chronic homelessness and towards one where permanent housing and social support are the goals.


Transition Projects is one of the shelters that's on the precipice of this necessary change.

At Transition Projects in Portland, the goal isn’t simply to get people off the street. The organization is helping people regain hope, reclaim their dignity, and find long-term housing.

That journey begins with a safe environment that provides showers, a place to wash clothes, and a clean bed. Those may sound like simple things, but they're not often attainable for homeless people. The 24 hour shelters Transition provides allow them to take care of their hygienic needs, which can help them start their day feeling good. That outlook can be the catalyst they need to change their circumstances.

In Portland — where home prices have begun to be described as “unaffordable” — more than 4,000 people have no place to go on any given night. Many of these people are living with disabilities. Many are veterans. And most don’t have a safe, clean place to be during the day either.

Transition runs eight shelters in the city. Seven are open 24 hours, meaning that clients can come in and take advantage of services whenever they need them. And because Transition’s policy is built on meeting people where they’re at, clients can enter with their partners (many traditional shelters separate mixed-gender couples), their pets, and their possessions.

“When you're living on the street, you already have a lot of barriers. We want the least amount of barriers to keep you from coming inside and getting our help,” says Roma Peyser, Transition’s Director of Development.

One such barrier is the late in/early out policy of many traditional shelters. At Transition, the staff know that this model often doesn't provide enough support to help people change their circumstances.

People who come in tired at the end of the night aren't prepared to do anything other than sleep. However, if they’ve had a good night’s rest in a clean bed, the chance to take care of their basic hygienic needs, and know that they don’t have to leave immediately, they’re more likely to be open to assistance that can transform their lives. And Transition provides services that do just that right in their facilities.

“We only have one [shelter] that closes in the morning,” says Peyser. “That's it. The rest are all offering wraparound services. It gives us a chance to develop a relationship [with the client] and get a good understanding of what each person needs so that we can guide the case managers.”

With the 24-hour model, Transition’s been able to offer clients more programming than they might find elsewhere. This includes AA meetings, art therapy, and mental health support. They provide clients with peer support from mentors who have lived in the shelter. They work to connect clients with medical services, and they have case managers who help veterans learn about and receive their benefits.

Transition also runs a resource center during the day. It’s a clean space where people can come in, take a shower, take care of other basic needs like cleaning their clothes, get connected to a mental health counselor, and start working with a case manager to navigate the often difficult path to housing. The center allows participants to spend the day where they feel safe and supported — something many of us with homes can take for granted.

It's a testament to why clean matters* — it can be the difference between an ordinary day and one that puts you on the path to a better, brighter future.

Since approximately a quarter of Transition’s shelter participants are working, having a place where they can come in and leave their belongings not only helps them stay in the program, it reduces the stigma around homelessness. Transition’s goal is to end stigma while simultaneously providing services that clients need.

“We’ve flipped the way shelters work on its head,” Peyser says.

For many people, Transition has made a life-changing difference. The program helps more than 1,000 people a year find housing.

For the people who use the services Transition offers, being involved in a group, taking a class, or even using the computer lab is a step towards feeling like an integral member of society again. And being able to do that in a space that’s clean, bright and feels welcoming is just the beginning. What happens next means everything.

For Danita, a Transition client, having a place to go during both day and night meant that she could focus on getting a job. Now she’s a program manager who helps women find and maintain affordable housing. It’s thanks to Transition that she’s come to a place in her life where she can give back.

Jon and Jennifer used Transition’s day program because they knew that it was a place that they would always be welcomed. It’s where they showered and did laundry. It's where they took classes. When the couple decided to pursue long-term housing, they used Transition’s services to help them find and maintain it. After that milestone was achieved, Jennifer was reunited with her teen daughter (who now also lives with the couple).

Today, both partners work at Transition helping others who, like them, may only be looking for a warm, clean place to be for right now, but for whom a better future may be closer than they think.

“Housing is hope,” says Peyser. For the thousands upon thousands of people that Transition has helped, that hope starts with consistently open doors to a safe space.

* Clorox believes clean has the power to transforms lives, which is why they've partnered with Upworthy to promote those same traits in people, actions and ideas. Cleaning up and transformation are important aspects of many of our social good stories. Check out the rest in the campaign to read more.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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