Evicting the Elderly 

A Tough Summer for Portland's Homeless Women

Alice Malacote, a woman in her 80s frequently spotted spare-changing near Powell's and Whole Foods, will become the latest addition to Portland's female homeless population if she is evicted, as planned, from her Park Tower apartment on SW Salmon on August 29.

Sean Cruz—a legislative aide to Oregon State Senator Avel Gordly, who came across Malacote when she was begging on Burnside recently, has taken up her case.

"Right now I've been saying that if they change the locks on Alice's apartment, I'm going to go down and chain myself to the front door. Here is this 85-year-old lady being threatened with eviction. I'd never have thought it," he says. Malacote, through Cruz, declined an interview.

While the exact basis for Malacote's imminent eviction remains unclear—Park Tower Apartments are owned by Harsch Investments, a financial vehicle for Portland industrialists Harold and Arlene Schnitzer; its lawyers at Bittner and Hahs did not return the Mercury's calls—it's a situation lamented by many working on behalf of Portland's homeless (many of whom are familiar with Malacote's situation).

"She must be terrified. I'm not blaming the Schnitzers, but how can a society like ours let this happen? There has to be some safety net," says Monica Beemer, executive director of the Sisters of the Road café, which works to help women down on their luck.

But Malacote's situation is by no means unique—plenty of vulnerable older women are facing eviction at the moment, according to Mya Chamberlin, senior case manager at the Friendly House, which works on behalf of elderly homeless in Portland's Northwest, Downtown, and Pearl Districts. Other homeless advocates agree that women, in particular, have had a difficult summer.

Increased pressure on Portland's landlords to convert to condos thanks to rising real estate prices, coupled with dwindling federal resources to help those with mental health problems, are the two biggest factors pushing landlords to be less sympathetic toward their elderly tenants, according to Chamberlin.

On Tuesday, August 8, one of Chamberlin's 74-year-old female clients had an eviction overturned by a judge with just 12 hours to go before the woman was locked out of her home, while another woman in her 80s was recently threatened with eviction by her landlord unless she took psychiatric drugs to control her temper.

"It's a good question where these women can go if they are evicted. Almost all are in subsidized housing, and once you have an eviction on your record, you can't go back," Chamberlin says, adding, "In my opinion, it's a policy issue. No one is holding landlords responsible." Chamberlin would like to see an ordinance that requires landlords evicting elderly tenants to call the county's aging and disability services referral line.

Women on Portland's streets have suffered two further blows this summer—the closure of 34 women-only beds earlier this year at the Salvation Army's Harbor Lights shelter on SW 2nd, and the closure of Rose Haven—a day center for 90 homeless women on NW 3rd, on the last day of June.

Money for the Harbor Lights shelter was pulled by the city last October as part of its 10-year plan to end homelessness, and given to charities aiming to house homeless women for the long term, rather than shelter them overnight. Likewise, Portland's Catholic Charities group re-directed its funds from Rose Haven to fund a longer-term project, dubbed Housing Transitions, which will not be offering assistance until October.

In the mean time, however, Portland's homeless women are without two key services. According to Portland Police Officer Jeff Myers, who works with homeless in the City's downtown area, the declining number of short-term options for women has had "a snowball effect. The women have become much more vulnerable."

The city's homeless program manager, Heather Lyons, says the city's new strategy is to help women over the long term. "Rather than having a bed to go to, Portland's homeless women now have an opportunity for long-term housing which has been shown to be more effective in ending homelessness."

Sources close to Malacote's situation are saying an eviction now looks "very likely." With lengthy waiting lists to get into long-term accommodations, such strategies are likely to be of small comfort to her when she becomes homeless on the morning of August 30.

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