To contact us:
Julia West House
522 SW 13th Avenue • Portland OR 97205
503-916-4009 • Fax: 503-406-4145
About Julia West House
Julia West House has always provided hospitality for neighbors in need in downtown Portland. We began in 1989 with food boxes, then sack lunches, then added other things as the program grew.
1) At first, we imagined what we would need if we were homeless, or lived with very limited resources. We gave out the things we imagined we would want if we were in that situation. After some years, we realized that what we were doing wasn’t really helping anyone get off the street or improve their circumstances. We weren’t providing any hope.
2) Then we asked our guests what they needed, what would really help. They gave us a list of things and services. We shifted emphasis, but discovered that although we were making life easier in some cases, we still weren’t helping many guests make positive change in their lives. We were providing entertainment, but not much opportunity, encouragement, or support for transformation.
3) Finally, we asked people who had transitioned back into the community what most helped them be successful. They told us, “Don’t try to fix us. Hold us accountable. Give us a chance. Let us stand on our own.” Their primary need wasn’t things or even services. The primary need was trusting relationships, encouragement, and opportunities. We continue to provide hospitality for everyone, but our focus is the actions and interactions that empower people to change their lives.
Julia West provides a civil, safe, supportive place to be. We operate with a combination of volunteers and paid staff. Volunteers are an important reason for our success, but we need staff members to provide continuity and implement our expectations of civility and sobriety. Most of our staff are former guests who became volunteers, then were hired as part-time employees. They more easily recognize behaviors that are inconsistent with our Julia West values. In the last three years we have employed nine part-time employees who have found housing or reconnected with families as a result. Several of them have moved on with their lives. That’s exactly what we hope for.
GED, small successes, and the Julia West experience.
When we began offering literacy classes we found many students whose perception of their reading ability was far lower than it actually was. Many of them had so often heard or concluded they were ‘dumb’ that their confidence was shattered. Many of them were not successful in a crowded classroom setting. Some froze up at test time.
We quickly discovered many students could read several levels above where they tested initially. All it took was a little time, personal attention, and encouragement. We celebrate every success. A string of small successes leads to a big improvement in attitude and confidence. We see lots of remarkable changes. In the last five years, we have had more than 200 students assessed, enrolled, and tutored.
One of the biggest problems for many of our guests, as well as for our culture in general, is isolation. The feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and invisibility are often the root of other problems for many people. Julia West House is a community where guests feel safe, recognized, cared about, listened to, and supported. That is the most important thing we can do for our neighbors.
In a May 19, 2007 Oregonian article about homelessness that features Julia West, Anna Griffen writes,
“The first step, advocates say, is building trust. ‘Just having an inviting atmosphere where you’re making people feel welcome is a big deal,’ says Marc Jolin, director of JOIN, another non-profit that offers homeless men and women a place to go during the day as part of its effort to help people find permanent housing. ‘They want to be treated with dignity and respect.’
That’s why, for example, Julia West House staff use real mugs and plates. Little touches build relationships. The more time a person spends at a day center, advocates say, the more likely they are to seek help.’”
things are needed to keep us alive, services are needed to help us survive, relationships are required if we are to thrive.
At Julia West our mission is providing hospitality and relationships, not things or services. Providing opportunities and encouragement for our guests in finding ways to help themselves and move to self-sufficiency. To thrive.
We are dedicated to breaking the barriers of isolation that is the reality for many of our guests. As Mother Teresa said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”
In this tough economic climate, funding for operations is hard to find. We are dedicated to keeping our hospitality doors open. We continue to seek support to sustain our operation and return to our former level of service. To borrow a phrase, “Any amount helps. God Bless.” It is important to continue the FPC tradition of engagement with the city and our neighbors that began in the 1860s.
“Welcome to the Julia West House community. We ask only that you agree to show respect for other guests, our volunteers, our staff, and our programs and facilities. The street stops here.”
That’s what the sign on the wall across from the front door says. Our mission at Julia West is to provide a civil, safe, supportive place where positive changes can begin. We don’t have clients, we don’t have customers; we have guests.
We don’t have long lines waiting for handouts of meals or clothing. Sure, sometimes there is a line waiting for snack time or on the sidewalk at 6:00 a.m. waiting for us to open. Our mission is not to hand out ‘things.’ Our mission is to be a place of refuge from the harshness of the street or from the loneliness of a small SRO (single resident occupancy) studio apartment or room.
Julia West is a place where people can come and go freely. Our doors are open and welcoming. Guests don’t have to sign in, or even identify themselves. We know many of them and greet them by name.
We have established a culture of civility. Because of the numbers of guests we have, and the small space we have, it can become crowded. In the beginning we were focused on serving coffee, controlling the crowd, trying to keep the peace. We had the culture of the street, it was just inside and dry.
But as our program has matured, we have lowered the volume, lowered the level of angry rhetoric, softened the tone of conversation, established a mellow ambience. Of course it is sometimes loud, and crowded, and there are occasional unpleasant exchanges. That’s not normal behavior and those incidents really stand out when they do happen. Our guests frequently express their thanks for a place that is peaceful and different than most of the other places they experience.
We do not tolerate language that is racist, sexist, misogynistic, abusive or violent. Guests who do not observe these simple rules of civility are asked to leave.
Civility is catching, we’ve discovered. Our guests have become used to treating those around them with politeness and kindness. Many of our guests tell us they are pleased we have expectations and that we insist each person take responsibility for his or her attitude and actions.
One guest, who has made the changes necessary to move on with his life, stopped by this week to say goodbye. When he first came several months ago, he was hostile, demanding, sometimes insulting. When he stopped by this week, he left a note saying, “Thank you for being here for me and all us that need this kind of support. All best. K.”
It was difficult at first when we started to change our culture. Everyone was accustomed to either taking a ‘me first’ stance and pushing to get what they wanted or trying to be invisible and not get in anyone’s way. We have now established a civil, polite, caring atmosphere at Julia West House, built on respect for the dignity of each person. The transformation from the culture of the street to our unique Julia West culture has been very positive. It takes diligence and vigilance to keep it mellow, but the results make it worthwhile.