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August 25th, 2004 Mary Ann Albright | News Stories
 

Harbor Light Flickers

Salvation Army cuts 24 beds from women's shelter.

     
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Harbor Light
IMAGE: RICHARD BUNCH
Amid a rising tide of homelessness among women, the Salvation Army has pared 40 percent of the beds reserved for single females from its Harbor Lightshelter.

The agency added the beds to its women's shelter last year, thanks to a private donation, but has since run out of money to maintain them. Each bed costs the agency approximately $15 a night for staffing, food, showers, basic toiletries and other services, for an annual total of $129,600. Thirty-four beds remain.

"It's all directed by the dollar," says Major Cathryn Russell, of the Salvation Army Cascade Division.

Located at the corner of Southwest 2nd Avenue and Burnside Street, the women's shelter has the sparse, cold feeling of a barrack. The room is lined with blue metal bunk beds, each topped by a mattress pad. Gray blankets rest in a shelving unit. There are coin-operated laundry machines, showers and fresh towels.

The regimentation goes beyond the decor. The women must leave the shelter by 7:30 am and cannot come back until 7:30 pm. They also do not have some perks, like linens and a day room, that the men enjoy.

Russell says this discrepancy exists because the men's programs have more funding, a problem she blames partly on society's reluctance to see homelessness as a problem affecting women.

While women make up just 25 percent of Portland's homeless population, that percentage is rising, according to Heather Lyons, homeless program manager for the city's Bureau of Housing and Community Development.

Barbara Chapman, 51, has been living at Harbor Light since late April. At noon, she is already camped out in front of the shelter to make sure she's first in line for a bed that night.

"As soon as they throw us out, we go line up again," Chapman says.

Chapman is currently working with agencies to find herself more permanent housing, in part because Harbor Light is changing its rules so that women can stay no more than 30 nights a year.

Russell estimates that since reducing its bed count Harbor Light now turns away about five women a night, but Chapman and two other clients say 20 to 30 is a more accurate figure.

 
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