Helping Hands Re-entry program lives up to its name

01/08/2016  

By Sue Cody

 

Helping Hands Alan Evans 2“We know we have a homeless problem,” said Alan Evans, executive director and CEO of Helping Hands, during an interview. “We want to see what obstacles people face and evaluate their needs so they can re-enter society, rather than have a Band-Aid fix.”

 

Helping Hands Re-entry Outreach Centers has 152 beds in 14 facilities, Evans told a recent CHART (Community Health Advocacy and Resource Team) gathering. The centers are located in Clatsop, Yamhill and Lincoln counties, with one to open in Tillamook in February.

 

Evans was homeless for 27 years, eventually finding help from a law enforcement officer who helped him get sober. In 2004, the structured living program was created by Evans and Michael Easter as Thugz Off Drugs in Seaside. By the end of six months the program served 61 men, women and children.

 

The question was, “How do you house people who have no money with no money?” Evans asked.  Well, he has found a way. Through grants, fundraising, scholarships, volunteerism and support from CareOregon for a triage intake center, Helping Hands now offers two meals a day, emergency services, housing, and a long-term re-entry program that includes classes and structured activities.

 

The cost of helping a homeless person on the street is $40,000 a year, said Evans. Helping Hands’ cost to house, train and feed an individual is $13 to $15 a day, or around $5,000 a year.
 

“This program is data driven,” Evans said. “Six years ago, we changed our concept.” After tracking individuals, he found the recidivism was great. “We can’t just say go get a job and stay clean and sober. It doesn’t work.” It is difficult for homeless people to sustain a clean lifestyle, he said.

 

“Looking from the top down, people come up with creative ways to assist that don’t actually help. The next day, the problem is the same,” he said.

 

Instead, Evans designed a program that goes from the bottom up, from the inside out.

 

“We have to know the obstacles people are facing,” Evans said.

 

At the intake for Helping Hands, people are asked to identify:

• gender

• age

• veteran status

• health issues

• domestic violence

• mental illness

• obstacles

• who referred them to Helping Hands

 

Homeless people come to the centers, receive an evaluation, look at obstacles they face and come up with an individual re-entry plan (IRP). Each plan is tailored for the individual. The only population the program does not serve is sex offenders, Evans said.

 

Helping Hands registers everyone for health insurance, helps with identification cards and Section 8 housing vouchers. Section 8 is a government program assisting low-income people with housing costs.

 

People who are ready to commit to not drinking or using drugs may move from the emergency shelter to the long-term program.

 

“What we offer and what people need are the same thing,” Evans said.

 

“The concept is making sure we give people the tools and help so they are capable of using those tools,” he said.

 

All people who use the services are documented. There were 675 unduplicated people Helping Hands served with shelter and housing in 2015, said Joyce Stuber, development director at Helping Hands.

 

Helping Hands Intake CenterClasses address obstacles

 

Helping Hands offered 21 classes this year, through October, Stuber said. Fifty-six people attended the classes for a total of 1,500 classroom hours.

 

The program partners with Clatsop Community College, so college credit can be offered. Volunteers teach the classes. Some offered this year:

• Communication

• Beginning Empathy

• Developing Capable People

• Dress for Success

• Careers

• Interviews

• Parenting

• Ready to Rent

 

In addition to classes, everyone is required to volunteer two hours a day to community service. Some projects include beach cleanups, working at the library, civic events, Helping Hands or at the community garden. There are 30 volunteers at the Seaside center. “They are all graduates of this program,” Evans said.

 

“We want people to be responsible,” he said.

 

Working Together

 

Evans adopted a third-grader who could not read or write and took him to Gearhart Elementary School. There, teachers jumped in to help him in all ways, Evans said. They did a mental health evaluation, taught him to read and write and now he is a straight-A student in high school.

 

“If we all work together as a team, we can change how we deal with our homeless,” Evans said. “We all want a comfortable home, to be warm and to be fed. The bottom could fall out for anyone. We have all experienced broken heartedness. We need to fix things on the inside first.”

 

He would like to see every organization transparent enough to prove where the money goes, Evans said. At Helping Hands, “every cost goes directly to service,” he said.

 

Helping Hands received some funding through Clatsop Community Action (CCA) and in return, Helping Hands occasionally shelters families.

 

People in Tillamook saw what Helping Hands was doing in Clatsop County and community members there said they needed a program.

 

Evans told them if they wanted the program, they would have to pay for it.

 

“It was funded by scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Evans said. Tillamook raised $50,000, enough to get their feet on the ground,” he said. There was some resistance in certain neighborhoods, but then the old naval command center became available. The 12,000-square-foot facility is now under construction for a Helping Hands Center.

 

“We simplified funding opportunities,” Evans said. All costs are related to services. A scholarship program was set up and now “anyone can donated $15 a month to be part of it. This is a community collaboration that is gaining a voice. The opportunity for funding began to steamroll and we now have scholarships.”

 

It’s an unbelievable journey to watch unfold,” Evans said.

 

Tracking

 

After 30 years of being apart, Evans said he was capable of reaching out to his younger brother, Wayne Evans. Wayne works for Dell PCs on a team that tracks sales of products on shopping networks.

 

“What if they could track people’s success in the same way?” Alan Evans wondered.

 

Alan worked with the team to create software that makes it easier for Helping Hands to track everything they do, including meals served, classes taken, beds used, volunteer hours, how money is spent and demographics. And Dell PCs donated the software.

 

“Every step people in the program take is documented,” Evans said. “We track people from the door to success.”

 

On the horizon

 

A new center in Newberg had a grand opening Dec. 30, and the Tillamook center is scheduled to open in February. There are plans for a new center in Seaside and Evans is looking for a location in Astoria.

 

Evans was preparing for a Homeless Connect event that will take place Jan. 28 at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. Organized by CCA, the event offers homeless and near-homeless people haircuts, medical screening, clothing vouchers, housing assistance, a meal and access to all social services.

 

In addition to CareOregon, Helping Hands partners with the Oregon Health Authority, with three assisters who help to register people with the Oregon Health Plan; the North West Oregon Housing Authority (NOHA) for housing re-entry; and with Seaside Temps, LLC for workforce experience.

 

“We are extremely grateful to CareOregon for providing funding that reaches people and services,” Evans said.

 

“It’s amazing to watch lives change,” Evans said. “All the negative I went through is now all positive, I can offer others the same opportunities to change their lives.”

 

For more information, or to donate, visit www.helpinghands.org.