Helping the homeless reenter society


By Sue Cody

When Alan Evans started Thugz Off Drugz 17 years ago in Seaside, he had no idea the organization would morph into Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers that helped 320 people in the reentry program and 934 people in emergency shelters in 2017 alone.

FB Raven Brown and Alan Evans Helping Hands

There are many causes of homelessness and Helping Hands is there to address the needs of individuals who are willing to stay off drugs and alcohol and follow the rules of the program. Individual action or treatment plans, life-skills classes and connection to services help them reconnect to the community and regain independence.


With 11 facilities in six cities and four counties, Helping Hands hosts 190 beds each night. Another facility will open soon in Astoria.


“I don’t think people realize how much good we do in the community,” says Raven Brown, development director for Helping Hands.


While the program initially focused mostly on people coming out of the corrections system, today those account for only 18 percent, down from 95 percent in 2001. The range of people now served reflects the broader community:

• 32% disabled
• 19% victims of domestic violence
• 11% veterans
• 22% families with children
• 18% single mothers
• 29% previously diagnosed mental health disorder
• 46% substance use disorder

Sex offenders are barred from the program because it serves children and families.


“The ‘face’ of the homeless that Helping Hands serves is increasingly families with kids,” says Mimi Haley, executive director of Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization’s Partnership and Development. “Their services can hopefully reverse or at least mitigate the multi-generational impacts of homeless and housing insecurity”


Individual focus

Each person’s reentry program is based entirely around their needs, says Brown. Case managers take time to learn each person’s story.


“We see ourselves as a bridge,” says Brown. “We help each person set their own goals. We educate our clients on how to access resources, such as the food bank, cooking healthy meals, how to get food stamps, and long-term goals like finding employment and getting rid of debt.”


Each person has to perform volunteer work, attend meetings, follow their individual plan and be accountable.


A good mix of sobriety courses and life-skill classes are taught by volunteers.


Getting photo identification is huge, Brown says. Many people come in with no ID and don’t know where their birth certificate is. Without ID, they can’t get a job or access federal services that might help them.


Case managers meet with clients regularly to make sure they are keeping appointments and following through.


With five law enforcement officers on the Helping Hands Board of Directors, there is accountability for keeping the facilities safe and sober. Police are welcome to do drop-in inspections.



A typical emergency shelter provides a hot shower, food and a bed, but the success rate of graduating to permanent housing is only about 18 to 19 percent, says Brown.


Helping Hands has a 90 percent graduation rate. That means people have completed the prescribed length of the program and obtained permanent housing.


After three years, 80 percent of women and 75 percent of men remain living independently. In a recent six-month period, there was no recidivism back to the program.


Helping Hands served Clatsop County in 2017 by providing residents with:

• 7,432 overnight stays
• 8,329 meals

It costs about $12 a day or $5,000 a year for a person in the Helping Hands Reentry program. In 2015, it cost taxpayers an average of $44,000 to keep an inmate in an Oregon prison for a year.


The fourth annual Angels Among Us fundraiser netted around $60,000 for Helping Hands. “That will go a long way toward our costs, says Brown.


The Columbia Pacific CCO gave a grant to support case and crisis management over the span of two years.


“Helping Hands Reentry Outreach is a key organization that provides housing supports to the homeless in two counties of our service area,” says Haley. “It fills a critical gap in connecting people to necessary services and restoring them to sustainable lives.” 


Suzy Evans heads case management and is spearheading trauma-informed care through crisis management. “She is a phenomenal lead clinician,” says Brown. “She works with individuals to recognize when their patterns change, and they might be headed toward a crisis and avert it.


Trauma-informed care reduces the need for law enforcement and visits to the emergency room, saving taxpayers money.


“The work Suzy is doing really makes a difference for people,” Brown says.


Two stories

A 64-year-old man had heart surgery. His wife was disabled and unable to care for him. They were evicted from where they were staying and went to Helping Hands. They didn’t need recovery help but needed to get through an emergency period.


Finding transportation, having a place to stay and getting his medical condition under control, they were able to find a place to live after a couple of months.


“Everyone’s story is unique,” says Brown.

Alisha Palmer Helping Hands FB

Alisha Palmer is the manager of the women’s shelter in Seaside. She had lived on a boat, ran into some trouble and turned to Helping Hands in 2016.


She is grateful for learning the financial ropes and getting a credit card.


She helps people register at outreach.


“At my age, material things don’t mean so much, but the principle of things do matter,” says Palmer. “I have made friends, I am a responsible person who can relate to the people who come into outreach.


She oversees nine women with chores such as kitchen duty, cleaning the porch, living room and bathroom, taking out trash.

“Helping Hands has helped a lot of people change their lives,” Palmer says. “Alan and Suzy are wonderful people. They helped me, and I feel like I have not paid back, but have given back through lots of volunteer hours.


“I’m not here because I need to be. I’m here because I want to be. I like helping people.”