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.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
True

It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.
Courtesy of Nextdoor

Jayden, Jayson, Jordan, Jeffery and Jared received an outpouring of support from neighbors after they came home from the NICU at almost a year old.

True

When the children's hospital called Aileen's pediatric occupational therapy clinic in July of 2020, the clinic was closed due to pandemic lockdowns. The hospital informed her that a set of quintuplet baby brothers had been born in November of 2019 and would be in need of her services once they were released. Would she be able to help?

Aileen often gets direct referrals from the hospital for families with special conditions, and premature quintuplets who spent their first year of life receiving oxygen and feeding through tubes certainly fit that bill. She decided to open her clinic specifically for the babies and their mother, Jackie. As the babies were released, they came to Aileen for ongoing occupational therapy, and by November 2020, all five boys were being cared for at the clinic.

The quintuplets stayed in the NICU for nearly a year after they were born.Courtesy of Nextdoor

Jackie is a single mom who moved to the U.S. from Ghana a couple of years ago. She lives with her mom and aunt in the Atlanta area and also has another son, Daniel, who was 3 years old when the boys came home from the hospital. With a preschooler and five babies needing medical care, Jackie definitely needed more help than her family and church could provide, but she was too shy to ask for it. Eventually, she confided in Aileen that she could use help with diapers. Even with one baby, diapers are expensive; keeping up with five at once would be overwhelming.

Aileen contacted local aid organizations who normally have diapers to offer, but they were all in short supply due to the pandemic. So she decided to reach out to her neighbors instead.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!