Photo by Matt Davis

Some jobs are more stressful than others.

For example, Cindy Mosney's: She has been working to assess the housing needs of homeless women for the independent nonprofit NW Pilot Project for more than 20 years. Mosney goes to shelters, interviews women who are homeless, and then tries to secure housing for them. It's a race against the gentrification clock, as the need for affordable housing remains steady, while Portland's supply is diminishing by the minute.

Even Mosney's office on SW Broadway now cowers in the shadow of the construction site for the new Ladd Tower, with its marble-clad retail space and 23 floors of luxury apartments. It's an unsympathetic emblem for the changing face of our city, a project without an affordable square foot going in.

"We're losing ground on affordable housing, that's for sure," Mosney sighs. "And I love that Eastbank Esplanade, but I wish I could tell you how many affordable housing units could have been built with that money."

Mosney meets an average of 30 homeless women a week, and as we're talking on a recent Monday afternoon, her two cell phones ring several times. She also has to divert her office line for 45 minutes to stop it ringing off the hook, a concession for which this reporter feels a touch guilty. Is her job always this busy?

"It's a constant battle," she says. "Whether I'm trying to get someone to a doctor or arrange for Social Security, there's always work that has to be done. I have one woman who's been waiting seven years to get a disability check. And we're always getting rejection letters."

There's also the barrier of widespread social stigma associated with homelessness, and not only among Portland's broader community. While Mosney's clients have often ended up homeless for a variety of reasons, many of them have internalized stigma about their situations, and it can fall to Mosney to persuade such women that they deserve her help.

"They've been raised with this pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps attitude," she says. "And they feel guilty and shameful taking my help because they feel they don't deserve it."

Contrary to stereotype, most of Mosney's clients are not addicted to drugs. They may have lost income through health problems, because a partner died, or their jobs may have simply fallen away over the years. Nevertheless, Mosney feels her own struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction as a young woman (she joined Alcoholics Anonymous at 26, 30 years ago, and still goes to three meetings a week) is fundamental in helping her relate to the people she works with.

"I've been homeless myself, and had to stay in shelters and ask for the same kinds of services I help these women get. And it could be just like that," she says, snapping her fingers, "that I could end up on the other side of this desk, needing help."

Often, Mosney will interview someone in need of services, but she'll be unable to supply any, perhaps because her agency's budget is spent in a given month, or because the shelters are all full. For such situations, there's a stress ball on Mosney's desk.

"That's like, my 10th one," she says, and it sits next to a jar full of 365 "affirmations" written on individual pieces of paper. The idea is to pull out a piece of paper, read what it says out loud, and then try to achieve that state of mind, no matter how stressful the circumstances. Mosney hands me the jar. The paper I pull out says: "I create open communication with ease and joy."

I pick another one instead. "Today, I am serene, peaceful, and calm."

It's at this point that I realize there aren't enough affirmations and stress balls in the world for me to be able to do Mosney's job day in, day out, for 20 years without going crazy.