Brandi Tuck, executive director
Portland Homeless Family Solution
As Portland’s homeless situation reaches emergency proportions, ideas about how to address it continue to churn. From mayor Charlie Hales’s “Safe Sleep Guidelines” to developer Homer Williams’s plans to turn Terminal 1 into temporary shelters, it’s clear that government and business are searching for answers. Brandi Tuck, executive director of Portland Homeless Family Solutions, knows that public camping and temporary shelters are not a real solution to homelessness.
“We have a growing population and not enough housing,” says the 33-year old, who started volunteering at PHFS in 2005 before becoming executive director two years later. The situation, she explains, creates a domino effect where rising rents force working families into worse apartments, and families in those apartments are forced onto the streets. “Everyone moves down.”
Tuck remains hopeful about Portland’s affordable-housing bond measure on the ballot this November, which promises to fund upwards of 1,000 units. The Terminal 1 project, however, leaves her skeptical. “That will only be successful if there are nearby resources and services,” she says. “You don’t want to warehouse people where there is no hope of changing the situation.”
Perhaps Terminal 1 could take a page from Tuck and PHFS. The organization moves between 150 to 200 homeless families into permanent housing each year, providing shelter, services and counseling every step of the way. Most are still in their homes one year later.
While she admits that there will always be some episodic cases, Tuck believes that more affordable housing will solve chronic homelessness. “We’re fighting a lot of mixed perceptions,” she says of a public that brands the homeless as drug addicted, mentally ill or lazy. “Two-thirds to three-fourths of parents in homeless families are working full time.”
Tuck’s passion for the cause surprises even her. She studied organizational leadership for nonprofits at the University of Florida and chose a spring-break community service project in homelessness and poverty on a whim. The experience “changed my life. I came back to school recharged and refocused,” she says.
Today hiking and yoga keep the young executive from burning out. She also credits PHFS’s board for investing in their 24 employees. Entry-level staff make $15 an hour, and everyone gets health care, dental and paid parental leave. “We have an amazing community here, and I can still step out and have a life.”