Portland, April 10th, 2013. For more than 40 years, Jean DeMaster has worked tirelessly to get homeless and low-income families and individuals out of the cold, off the streets, and into housing. (Photo Courtesy of Human Solutions)
This week, DeMaster, Executive Director at Human Solutions, was selected by the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors® and was honored at the Portland First Citizen Banquet at The Nines Hotel. DeMaster is the 85th recipient of this distinguished award, created in 1928 to honor civic achievements and business leadership.
“When I see families in really desperate situations, I know if Human Solutions can help provide shelter and housing, they won’t be suffering anymore. When people are waiting outside in the cold for the shelter to open, and you know that what they really need and want is housing, it makes me want to work harder to be sure that housing can be available for them,” said DeMaster.
The turnaround is gratifying, she said. “Many of the families are so miserable because they are literally living in their cars or in abandoned buildings,” DeMaster said. “We are happy we can provide shelter for them. They are so relieved at that point. That’s what keeps me going.” Typically, families only stay in shelter for three to five weeks before being placed into housing.
Realtors® understand just how much a safe and attractive house means to families, and it’s one of the reasons DeMaster feels so honored to receive the 2013 Portland First Citizen award. “The families we work with are all very low income, but they have the same desire to find a home, and begin to rebuild their lives. I’m honored to be recognized by the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors®.”
Carla Piluso, a member of the Human Solutions Board of Directors since 1996 and its current chair, called DeMaster one of her personal heroes. “Jean is the champion for those who cannot always speak for themselves. Not only does she provide those in the greatest need with a voice, she gives them the strength and confidence to find, and intimately shout out, with their own voice. She has touched the lives of thousands,” Piluso said.
A Wisconsin native, DeMaster moved to Portland after college and fell in love with the area, rain and all. Putting her graduate degree in clinical psychology to use, she initially worked as a social worker at Head Start. She moved on in 1973 to serve as Executive Director for Children’s Club, a child care center for children of low-income families.
During that period, DeMaster volunteered her time to an issue that would serve as a common theme throughout the next 40 years – ensuring safe places for women and children to live.
Over her career, DeMaster has volunteered her time to many different organizations, but the volunteer work she is most proud of is her part in the founding and early beginnings of Bradley Angle House. Founded in 1975, Bradley Angle House is the West Coast’s first domestic violence shelter, as well as one of the first emergency shelters for survivors of domestic violence in the country. It still exists as a safe shelter for women and children today.
In 1976, DeMaster, along with Kay Sohl, founded Technical Assistance for Community Services (TACS), an agency designed to provide training and consultation services for nonprofit agencies. TACS still exists today as the Nonprofit Association of Oregon.
In 1983, DeMaster became Executive Director of Transition Projects, Inc., a position she held for 11 years. It would prove to be a pivotal move. It was there she met Don Clark, former Multnomah County Commissioner, Sherriff, and Director of Central City Concern. He was instrumental in her understanding of the City of Portland.
DeMaster was also able to once again work on the issue near and dear to her heart: providing safe places for women. She succeeded. In 1993, Transition Projects opened Portland’s first homeless shelter and transitional housing facility that was solely for women. In honor of DeMaster’s leadership, the shelter was named Jean’s Place.
DeMaster went on to serve as Executive Director of the YWCA of Greater Portland. Her biggest project wasraising $9 million for the renovation of the downtown YWCA building to enhance programs ranging from aging and disability services to transitional housing.
That knack for fundraising would serve her well in the next major step in her professional career: Executive Director of Human Solutions. For the past 10 years, DeMaster has led the organization as it provides housing and services to people in Mid and East Multnomah County – eliminating barriers to escaping poverty through emergency family shelter, job training, affordable housing, eviction prevention, and emergency shelter. On any given night, Human Solutions provides housing or emergency shelter for approximately 240 homeless families – and more than 700 homeless people.
DeMaster’s proudest accomplishment at Human Solutions is the Rockwood Building, a four-year, $19 million project including 47 units of affordable housing and a multi-service center to serve homeless and low-income people in the Rockwood area, which faces one of the deepest levels of poverty in all of Multnomah County.
Today, the Rockwood Building includes 15 units of housing for homeless families and 32 units for low-income families. The Mt. Hood Community College Head Start Program, a Loaves and Fishes Center, LifeWorksNorthwest, Metropolitan Family Service, and the Wallace Medical Concern share office space there with Human Solutions.
Currently, DeMaster is tackling a 67-unit project that will provide workforce housing to people just starting out in their careers. Next, she’d like to mirror the Rockwood Building in the Portland area by creating another multi-service building that would house expanded office space for Human Solutions as well as bring people in the community together. It’s an exciting time for the organization, and DeMaster’s enthusiasm for her work hasn’t waned over the past 40 years.
“I have enjoyed my work immensely. It doesn’t always seem like work; it just seems like what I want to be doing.”