Light a Fire

This 50-Year-Old Housing Org Offers Hope to Portland’s Most Vulnerable Residents

Transition Projects combats homelessness with deeply affordable housing units built for long-term societal change.

By Morgan Westling December 2, 2020 Published in the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Portland Monthly

 Giving Shelter winner at our 2020 Light a Fire Awards: Transition Projects 

When Jennifer Leseman broke her leg in 2011, a doctor prescribed pain medications. That was the start of an addiction that quickly escalated to methamphetamines and culminated in her living on the streets. Transition Projects was her lifeline.

“We came to Portland to use their services,” she says. Which is why, after finishing a drug treatment program and getting her GED, she returned to the 50-year-old nonprofit for mentor training. Now, after almost five years with the organization, she’s the quality assurance supervisor: “I wanted to show others that it is possible to get clean and off the streets and become a productive member of society again.”

She’s one of thousands who have found help through Transition Projects, and one of many who have gone on to work with the organization, which leased its first hotel to house men experiencing homelessness in Old Town in 1969. Since then, the organization has expanded its effort to include nine shelters and a resource center, sheltering more than 800 people every night, all in support of the mission to help people transition from homelessness to housing.

Director of development Roma Peyser says the shelters “reduce barriers and help individuals move toward housing” by providing case management, health and wellness, meals, showers, and mental health support. Each year, they help at least 1,000 people regain stable, affordable housing. Through the resource center, the organization provides mail, lockers, laundry, computers, and clothing services. Participants can overcome renter challenges with educational tools and gain peer-to-peer support through the mentor program.

More than 4,000 people are houseless on any given night in Portland, a number that seems bound to increase due to COVID-19 and wildfires. “We just keep working harder to make a difference in what we do,” says Peyser. “Our participants are citizens of Portland, they’re our neighbors.

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