Oregon philanthropy is investing in an accurate 2020 U.S. census count

News broadcasts and headlines these days include any number of stories about the 2020 presidential election. But the results of another nationwide civic engagement next year will last beyond the tenure of the next U.S. president, no matter who is elected.

The census.

The U.S. Constitution requires that every ten years the federal government conduct a complete count of all people living in the United States, including immigrants (documented and undocumented), Tribal members and refugees. This is a fundamental, nonpartisan element of our democracy. On census data hinge apportionment of congressional and electoral representation and allocation of more than $800 billion of federal funding each year.

Only a full census count can ensure Oregon receives its fair share of federal funds for schools, housing, highways and more. The 2020 U.S. census will impact all Oregonians for at least a decade. That is why Meyer’s largest grant award this year supports work toward a full, accurate and equitable count. And we are not alone. Oregon philanthropy is marshaling its resources and partnering with public agencies to ensure a full count that will secure resources, information and the representation that Oregonians deserve.

Why the census matters

The results of each decennial census count have a number of direct and tangible impacts.

Representation — Census data determine the number of legislators each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives (apportionment) and are used to set the geographic area that each Representative covers (districting).

Federal funding — Many key safety net programs are funded according to population information, including Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school lunches, Section 8 housing, Pell Grants, short-term rental assistance, medical assistance programs and more. Federal funding allocations vitally impact rural communities, which tend to rely more on federal support.

Resource placement and priority — Census data influence countless decisions, both public and private, about infrastructure needs, investment opportunities, business locations and types of goods and services to be offered.

Beyond resources, the census also helps express who we are in the United States. Data tell stories, and if the census is incomplete or inaccurate, many of our stories about ourselves will (continue to) be as well. For example, until 2000, all census respondents were forced to select a single race; mixed race people were not allowed to identify as such. Likewise, the 2020 census will be the first to count same-sex couples. These identities are invisible — and the people who hold them not fully seen — in federal data from all prior decades, data that is still referred to today and will be indefinitely. Communities that are un- or undercounted also lose visibility, and being left out of the story has very real impacts, social, political, and economic.

What’s at stake in Oregon

According to Census Bureau estimates, Oregon is among a handful of states whose population has grown significantly since the 2010 census and could therefore gain a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census.A decade ago, Oregon missed adding a sixth seat by a little more than 40,000 people. 

Since 2010, Oregon’s population has grown by more than 8%, and we know that demographics have shifted in that time as well. In 2016, Oregon received more than $13 billion through the top 55 federal funding programs, amounting to roughly $3,100 per person. If the count in 2020 fully reflects Oregon’s estimated growth, federal funding allocations to the state will also grow. Oregon will have better data to help lawmakers, businesses and the nonprofit sector make informed decisions on any number of efforts.

What’s different about 2020

Oregon needs a full count. Although no census is perfect, we know that to even achieve status quo accuracy in 2020 will require substantially more than a status quo approach because a number of unique factors this time around could hinder a full count, particularly among Oregon’s hardest-to-count populations:

  • This will be the first digital census, raising concerns about personal data security and internet scams. It’ll also reinforce a digital divide in Oregon, where almost 20% of households do not have access to broadband internet.2
  • Substantial delays and reductions in federal funding have resulted in a lack of critical infrastructure needed to support the count.3
  • Debate over whether to include a citizenship question — which the Supreme Court ultimately blocked in July 2019 — has politicized the census and instilled fear in communities of color and immigrant communities. That fear could still threaten Oregon’s count: Almost a half-million Oregonians live with a noncitizen, and 78% of those living with a noncitizen are people of color.4
  • Efforts to spread disinformation — which are expected to intensify — that could suppress census participation, particularly among nonwhite populations.5
  • Increasingly polarized public discourse during the run-up to the presidential election.

How Oregon philanthropy is stepping up and centering equity

Given all that is at stake, Meyer and several peer funders began talking in 2017 about the upcoming census in Oregon. Conversations quickly revealed that our diverse group, all with different funding programs and priorities, had common purpose around ensuring a full and accurate census because it impacts every population we focus on in our individual institutions.

We took time to establish shared agreements, among them, an equity lens to help guide our collective work.

“We recognize that structural racism, other oppressions, and geographic isolation have historically suppressed census counts of certain communities and that this continues to have compounding negative impacts on resources and outcomes for those communities. Therefore, we believe that investing first and most in efforts that arise from and focus on communities of color and populations that experience barriers to census and civic participation is the best way to ensure that our work ultimately benefits all Oregonians.”

From there, we — City of Portland Office of Community & Civic Life, Collins Foundation, Ford Family Foundation, Gray Family Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, North Star Civic Foundation, Northwest Health Foundation, PacificSource Foundation for Health Improvement, Pride Foundation, Spirit Mountain Community Fund, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and Meyer — formalized our partnership as the Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon (CEFCO) and engaged in an extensive field scan regarding census work, learning about community and philanthropic efforts in other states, connecting with community groups in Oregon, meeting with U.S. Census Bureau staff, and building partnerships with public agencies, including the Office of Gov. Kate Brown and the City of Portland’s Office of Community and Civic Life.

Our research was clear: The philanthropic community can best support a full and accurate census count by supplementing federal efforts with strategies and resources specifically focused on reaching “Hard to Count” (HTC) populations across Oregon. So CEFCO moved forward with two significant and interrelated pieces of work: investment in the development of a statewide get-out-the count plan to reach HTC communities and creation of a pooled funding mechanism to support work identified in the plan.

Hard to Count” populations, as designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, are just what they sound like: Groups at risk of not being fully counted. These are both geographic and demographic populations, including people of color, Tribal communities, children under age 5, people experiencing homelessness, geographically isolated households, recent immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, communities with low response rates in the last census, and more.

#WeCountOregon campaign plan

In December 2018, CEFCO released an RFP seeking a contractor to create and implement a statewide plan to ensure that Oregon’s hard to count populations are included in the 2020 census. Dancing Hearts Consulting emerged through a community-informed selection process as the right partner for this work given their organizing and grassroots experience, proposed field approach, and relationships with key community organizations. In fact, the proposed approach and resulting #WeCountOregon campaign plan were collectively developed with — and implementation will be conducted with — the leadership of 12 Partnership Organizations.

This comprehensive get-out-the-count plan includes coordinated strategies for field outreach, communications, Native/Tribal education and engagement, and other culturally specific training and education. The work will touch all 36 counties in Oregon. It is data informed and centers trusted messengers for door-to-door, community-based, and in-agency outreach and communications, which will be available in multiple languages.

Implementation of the #WeCountOregon plan will unfold on this general timeline.

PREPARE Develop field operation plans to help increase census participation. July - December 2019
EDUCATE Increase community awareness and tackle misinformation about the 2020 census January - April 1, 2020
ACTIVATE Engage every Oregonian in the 2020 census (with focus on HTC populations) April 1* - August 2020
IMPACT Secure resources and representation for our communities September 2020 and on

*April 1 is Census Day, the date by which all households should receive an invitation to participate in the census.

A number of community-based organizations across the state will serve as Census Assistance Centers (selected through a recent RFP) during the most active period of the count, April through July. These are physical locations frequented by members of hard to count populations where resources and assistance related to the census will be available, including on evenings and weekends in most locations. The centers will have computers that community members can use to submit their census forms online, with linguistically appropriate support as needed.

The #WeCountOregon campaign’s focus on reaching hard to count populations is meant to complement broader “complete count” efforts made by the State of Oregon and the federal government. CEFCO collaborates closely with the State, and has members serving on the Oregon Complete Count Committee to ensure that our efforts are coordinated and effective. That committee is co-chaired by Chi Nguyen, Executive Director of APANO, which is one of the #WeCountOregon Partnership Organizations.

Census Equity Fund of Oregon

Fully implementing the #WeCountOregon campaign plan will require an investment of $10 million, which is significant but is only a tiny fraction of the resources that will flow to Oregon based on results of the census count. Because we know that work will move quickly and that funds need to be deployed with maximum efficiency, CEFCO opted to establish a pooled fund: the Census Equity Fund of Oregon. To date, 14 foundations and several public entities have collectively contributed more than $9 million to the fund.

The State of Oregon is the largest contributor at $7.5 million. This is a first-of-its-kind investment from the state, and, along with $600,000 from the City of Portland, makes this the only fund in the country where public and private dollars are commingled and allocated toward a coordinated statewide effort to reach Hard to Count populations. Roughly $1 million has been contributed from philanthropic sources. We are proud to be part of this innovative cross-sector collaboration, and we need more partners to join as well. Fundraising efforts are still underway to make sure that we fully resource the field work needed to achieve a full, equitable count for Oregon.

How everyone can engage to support a full count

Now is the time to get involved, to uphold our democracy and support our communities by ensuring a fair and accurate census in 2020.

Learn — Watch #WeCountOregon’s Census 101 webinar in either English or Spanish and visit sites such as Count Us In and Census 20/20 to find resources and learn more.

Connect — Register your pledge to be counted, and sign up for updates from the #WeCountOregon campaign to keep attuned to census work around the state. Funders, potential funders and partners can also stay engaged by attending monthly Census Equity Fund meetings, which are accessible remotely.

Invest — Contribute to the Census Equity Fund of Oregon. Join this innovative collaboration and help close the gap toward our fundraising goal of $10 million for census engagement in hard to count communities statewide.

Network — Spread the word! Engage your colleagues, peers, and friends in census activity and outreach. Encourage them to pledge to count. Share resources. Help CEFCO connect with potential funders and partners.

To invest or connect with the Census Equity Fund of Oregon, please contact Lauren Gottfredson, Community Collaborations Senior Manager at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette (which is serving as backbone agency for this collective effort). Lauren can be reached at 503-226-9303 or laureng [at] unitedway-pdx.org.

Many challenges remain to achieving an accurate census in 2020; this count will require stronger statewide efforts than ever before. Meyer is proud to join with philanthropy peers from across the state in the Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon (CEFCO) to ensure that each Oregonian is counted.

— Erin


Data sources

2020 census: Achieving an accurate count in Oregon. Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon
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By and About
2019 Year-end Review

When I spoke at the plenary session of the 2019 Philanthropy Northwest Annual Conference a few weeks ago, I remarked that although Meyer Memorial Trust’s course toward equity was set about six years ago, this was the year we really started sailing into the deep waters. That’s the story of 2019 at Meyer. We’ve been digging deep into the work of dismantling barriers to equity in education, housing and the environment and improving community conditions with our sights set on the horizon: a flourishing and equitable Oregon.

The final year of the decade was my first full calendar year as Meyer president and CEO, and it has been a formative time for the organization. I’m proud of what we have accomplished through the hard work and dedication of our staff and trustees and alongside our partners across the state.

Meyer’s Housing Opportunities team hosted an Equity Housing Summit that was two years in the making and brought together hundreds of housing-focused grantees and homeless service provider partners to share strengths, insights and lessons to advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the field. The Building Community portfolio shifted to a two-part funding strategy focused on supporting systems change to create a just, complex, multicultural society where everyone can thrive. The Equitable Education team hosted their second annual Teachers of Color Gathering, bringing together more than 30 educators of color from around the state. The Healthy Environment team added its first program officer, Mary Rose Navarro.

After 10 years and more than $18.5 million invested in the health of the Willamette River, Meyer’s Willamette River Initiative transitioned into the independent Willamette River Network to continue and expand the Willamette Basin restoration movement. We said a fond farewell to our longest-serving trustee, Debbie Craig, who retired in April. Our trustee, Toya Fick, became our new board chair. And a few months later, we were delighted to welcome our newest trustee, Alice Cuprill-Comas, who brings strong expertise and a well-versed background in business, nonprofit governance and corporate law.

We hit the road, determined to get to know the state of Oregon through the eyes of its original inhabitants. Between October 2018 and October 2019, Meyer staff and trustees visited all nine federally recognized Tribes in the state, seeking to forge new, strong relationships with these sovereign nations.

We hosted the fourth lecture in Meyer’s Equity Speaker Series with a riveting, powerful talk by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II. In collaboration with Literary Arts, the Equity Speaker Series will continue next March with award-winning author Tommy Orange, as the culminating event of Multnomah County Library’s 2020 Everybody Reads program.

We have also been looking to the future. Next year, Meyer will undergo an exciting transition when we move from rented office space in Portland’s Pearl District to our new and permanent campus, currently under construction in North Portland’s Eliot neighborhood. Preparing for the move across the Willamette River has inspired us to think deeply about what it means to be a neighbor. We are looking forward to deepening our connection to North Portland and the community of historic Albina. We are also committed to making the campus a physical embodiment of Meyer’s mission and values, which means using the new building as a resource that will provide us the ability to offer new types of support and further investment in communities across the state.

2020 promises to be a big year for Meyer and for Oregon. Each and every day we will be looking to do more, in addition to grantmaking, to invest in change at the systemic level to ease inequities and disparities. Stay tuned for more news in the coming months as we work with our peers in the Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon to support efforts to ensure an accurate count in the 2020 census. Visit our website and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things Meyer in the new year.

Until January, all of us at Meyer wish you a warm, joyous holiday season.


Meyer staff and members of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council pause for a photo after an afternoon of dialogue, learning and connection.

Meyer staff and members of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council pause for a photo after an afternoon of dialogue, learning and connection.

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Reflections on Meyer's 2019 Equity Speaker Series lecture with Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

I’m lucky to be working at an organization that holds significant privilege but has asked us to take a “learning stance” to better understand the issues that face those we serve. Meyer Memorial Trust envisions a Meyer that, among other tenets, requires us to build our learning muscle to step out of our traditional philanthropy ivory tower and reduce our distance from the organizations we fund and the communities they serve.

To that end, Meyer has established an “Equity Speaker Series,” bringing national leaders to Portland two or three times a year to ignite dialogue on issues of race, equity, inclusion and diversity.

In partnership with the Coalition of Communities of Color and the Oregon Center for Public Policy, Meyer hosted 2019 Equity Speaker, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, in November. Rev. Barber is a nationally recognized social justice advocate and pastor who has built a broad-based grassroots movement to strengthen civic engagement and inspire people to imagine a more humane society.

Rev. Barber has served as the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, since 2003 and as president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP from 2005 to 2017. Calling himself a “student of morality and public policy,” Rev. Barber founded Repairers of the Breach. The national leadership development organization began a series of “Moral Monday” rallies outside the North Carolina statehouse to protest laws that cut funding for public education and health care, suppressed voter turnout and further disenfranchised poor White, Black, First Nations and LGBTQ+ communities. The movement waged successful legal challenges to voter suppression and racial gerrymandering, and it engaged massive voter registration and education efforts.

Expanding on the Moral Monday movement, Rev. Barber has also revived Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign for the twenty-first century. In recognition of his selfless street-level activism and long history of leading national civil rights campaigns, Rev. Barber was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” in 2018.

Although the issue of U.S. poverty is deep and challenging, Rev. Barber reminded us that it may not be as complex as we make it out to be. When it comes down to it, the mandates that we hold as foundational and even sacred as stated in the Constitution require us to interrogate what it really means to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” when 140 million people are living in poverty in this country.

Additionally, he asked the audience to consider that the racialization of poverty has only supported policies that keep poverty in place. Population data show that in raw numbers, there are 40 million more White people living in poverty than people of color. In Oregon, that equates to 1.3 million. At the same time, people of color are overrepresented in the poverty and low-wealth categories. Making poverty a race issue divides us to create and maintain racist, and therefore, morally corrupt policies. We need to work together across races to address poverty. As Rev. Barber stated, “If we can’t pay the light bill, we’re all Black in the dark.”

In past positions and as Meyer’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager, I have theorized, planned and trained around DEI issues. But as much of these things I’ve done, and as passionate as I feel about equity and inequities, there is something so simple, and perhaps even more moving, about Rev. Barber’s logic. His call for us to stand together against the racialization of poverty and build bridges across race to address this moral crisis make total sense to me!

We are truly grateful to Rev. Barber for sharing his message in Oregon. Want to hear more from Rev. Barber himself? Watch his speech here. Want to talk more about this or Meyer’s Equity Speaker Series? Please reach out to carol [at] mmt.org

P.S. If you missed the event, you can watch Rev. Barber’s keynote on Meyer’s YouTube channel here.

Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II on stage at the Alberta Abbey during Meyer’s 2019 Equity Speakers Series

Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II on stage at the Alberta Abbey in Portland during Meyer’s 2019 Equity Speakers Series.

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ICYMI: Our Story on Our Territory

The Chinook Indian Nation recently bought Tansy Point, an impressive ten acres of land on the Tribes' ancestral homeland and serene enclave of forests, wetlands and habitat for elk, deer, bald eagles and other native creatures. 

Enrolled Chinook Indian Nation member Leslie Ann McMillan wrote about the Tribes work to purchase the Tansy Point treaty grounds in a new article published by Oregon Humanities:

"During the past two years, we have been stunned by the outpouring of generosity from tribal members, old friends, new friends, foundations, trusts, and others that have learned of our Tansy Point treaty grounds purchase and preservation.

We completed our reacquisition of the modest yet monumental ten acres in 2019. We look forward to stewardship; flora, fauna, and fish counts; stream and habitat revitalization; and historical, environmental, and cultural preservation in partnership with others who care. On our tidal shoreline property far downriver, anything occurring anywhere in the Columbia River estuary ecosystem concerns us."

Read the entire piece here.

View of the Astoria-Megler bridge from the Tansy Point treaty grounds. Photo credit: Oregon Humanities

View of the Astoria-Megler bridge from the Tansy Point treaty grounds. Photo credit: Oregon Humanities

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Meet our newest team member, Mary Rose!

Mary Rose Navarro recently joined Meyer’s Healthy Environment portfolio as the portfolio’s first program officer. In September, Communications & Engagement Specialist Darion Jones interviewed Mary Rose about her background, experience and what keeps her grounded in environmental equity work.

Darion Jones: So, Mary Rose, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Mary Rose Navarro: I moved to Oregon in 1990 from Indiana, but my family moved quite a bit when I was young, so I like to say that I am from five suburban towns in four Midwestern states.

My father was an ambitious businessman. I’ve been thinking about him since he passed away three years ago. I mainly thought of him as this entrepreneur, but when I really look at how he lived his life, I believe he worked so hard so he could make things better for his family, his friends and his community. While he wanted to be valued as a businessman, he really lived his life being of service, always warm, hospitable and welcoming.

He was someone who leaned in wherever there was an opportunity. For example, he was the president of our neighborhood association, and I remember building a float for the Fourth of July parade in our garage with neighbors. He stepped up at church where he was involved in the Knights of Columbus. In more recent years, he got really involved in Project Healing Waters, which is an organization that helps veterans heal from the trauma they’ve experienced through flyfishing and fly tying. He was proud of his involvement in that organization.

Over these last three years, I have come to realize that my own ambition and hard work is also rooted in the desire to be of service to others and lead a meaningful life.

Darion Jones: Yeah, that sounds like a phenomenal kind of community-building and dedication. I now understand a little bit more about what drives you.

Earlier you said you were from four Midwestern states. How did you make the shift from where you are to Oregon?

Mary Rose Navarro: It was a little by accident.

I was attending Purdue University in Indiana working toward earning an engineering degree. I shifted course when I realized I wanted a career with a more creative outlet. Landscape architecture was an attractive option.

Darion Jones: Wow, that is quite a different place to end up.

Mary Rose Navarro: When I made the switch, it wasn’t because I was concerned about the environment. I just wanted to design cool gardens, but then I took a required forestry class. That’s where I read Aldo Leopold and learned about the interconnection of ecosystem services and reflected on people’s connection to nature.

When I graduated, I received an offer in Dayton, Ohio, for a firm that did typical land development kind of projects … and an offer in Portland, Ore.

I had sent my resume to a firm here in Portland that was supporting community groups that were organizing around a system of parks and green spaces. Honestly, I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded closer to my interest in ecosystem health.

It was eye-opening. I had never even thought about the services government provides our communities until I found myself in this room of conservation advocates and “friends of” groups. They were advocating for a long-term plan that would direct more intentional funding into environmental protection. It wasn’t just the idea of a planning document that attracted my attention. It was how many small community groups were actively taking care of a small natural area in their neighborhoods. I was amazed with their interest in connecting with and learning from each other.

Coming from the flat farmlands of the Midwest to the rich natural beauty of Oregon; learning about government services and planning practices alongside passionate community members; experiencing the power of collaboration — all at the same time — really pushed me toward the path that I’ve taken.

Darion Jones: What drew you to nonprofit work?

Mary Rose Navarro: When I completed my masters program at Portland State University, I thought of myself as an environmentalist and somebody who was mainly concerned about trees and habitats and birds (which I do deeply care about). Then I landed a role at Friends of Trees. There I learned that I wasn’t really in this work for the trees ... I was in it for the community-building.

So often, when people come together early on a Saturday morning, it can be cold and rainy. They’re all bundled up and elbowing their way to the coffee pot. By the end of the morning the energy has shifted. There’s a buzz of accomplishment while people eat lunch with new friends and reflect on what they were able to achieve together.

There is also the less visible part of the work. Each neighborhood had a volunteer coordinator who invested many hours of work getting people to sign up for trees, collecting orders and organizing volunteers. My role was simply supporting them.

Their experiences were so inspiring and revealed the more hidden relationship building that was happening.

As I’ve been learning more about the systems that have created the disparities in our world, I’ve wondered “Where do I want to affect change?” What I've come to understand is that it’s one interaction at a time.

Darion Jones: How so?

Mary Rose Navarro: There was one coordinator, who knocked on the door of a particular house over and over and over again. This house was on a big corner lot with room to plant many trees, and we really wanted to plant trees. However, the woman that lived there was very reluctant to open the door. When she finally came to the door, the coordinator learned that she was afraid of the teenagers who hung out on the corner, “They’re hoodlums,” she would say. Ultimately, she did agree to plant trees and guess who planted them? The kids that she had been afraid of. This is the way new friendships are seeded and trust is built, one interaction at a time.

Darion Jones: Wow, it is truly amazing to hear that story come full circle.

Mary Rose Navarro: As we more authentically connect with one another, we will become more courageous to face the internal conditioning that gets in our way. This allows us to then work more courageously together toward equitable and just social change.

In my work at Meyer, I hope to always bring that level of caring. I know that there is a dynamic of wanting to put a funder on some pedestal. But Meyer can’t accomplish our mission without the vision, the passion and the dedication of the people working in community-based organizations and the people they are empowering. That’s where the root of social change is.

Darion Jones: Fighting the good fight, what do you do to relax? Where do you find catharsis and how do you recharge?

Mary Rose Navarro: My practice of taking care of myself and recharging is also a practice toward self-awareness.

By nature, I’m an extrovert, but I find that I need space to be silent and reflective.

I have been practicing mindfulness for over 15 years now. One practice that is really important to me is what we call a “Day of Mindfulness.” My spiritual community practices days of mindfulness once a month at an abbey in Lafayette. I try to attend six to eight times a year. It’s a beautiful setting where I can feel very connected to the earth and connected to the trees. By collectively taking care of ourselves, we can then support each other as each of us brings more intention and awareness to the work we do for the world.

Darion Jones: It sounds like a wonderful and calming place to get centered. Thank you for chatting with me today, Mary Rose. I’m glad you’re here at Meyer.

Mary Rose Navarro: Thank you, Darion.

Interested in reading more about Mary Rose? Check out her staff bio.

Meet Mary Rose Navarro
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A conversation on housing and employment systems

Housing stability is inextricably linked with other systems of care – health care, criminal justice, child welfare and education, to name a few. We were intrigued to see a proposal in 2017 from a collaborative working at the intersection of affordable housing and workforce development. Worksystems, Inc. was leading a collaborative effort to link employment and housing services for formerly homeless families in Portland, giving low-income residents community-based career coaching and supports to achieve family-supporting employment.

We saw the project as an opportunity for systems to coordinate in intentional, equity-informed ways that could produce better outcomes for both employment and housing stability. Now, over a year into the work, we are following up with Stacey Triplett, community programs manager at Worksystems, to hear more about the collaborative’s progress.

Theresa: How is Worksystems’ project aligning with the homeless services system?

Stacey: The Worksystems’ Aligned Partners Network (APN) is a flexible set of community-based employment service providers who are experienced in a customer-centered approach. This network approach creates success in making relevant services available in our community for folks experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Today, APN career coaches are a vital part of homeless services, working one on one with customers getting jobs, getting scholarships for occupational training and getting better jobs, all of which serves to stabilize their housing. High-demand, family-wage careers are open to those with a need for housing support if, and only if, they are able to set career goals and layer supports that are needed. Supports are timed to make progress possible; customers both gain skills and access employment opportunities.

The model for systems alignment is a “housing hub” approach where dedicated rent assistance coordinators bring housing market knowledge to customers in need of rapid rehousing or eviction prevention services alongside the work of the employment service providers of the APN. The same customers are shared across systems. The new normal is for career coaches to engage with their customers before, during and after they receive rent assistance in a manner that demonstrates that both housing AND employment stability are goals around which they engage their customers. This was a result of career coaches coordinating closely with and experiencing great support from the housing hub and its specialty knowledge to address short-term rent assistance needs.

Theresa: Can you share an example of a household that has benefitted from your work?

Stacey: Sure. Khalid had a master’s degree in electrical engineering and eight years of experience before he arrived in Portland as a refugee. To be recognized as a professional engineer in this country, his career coach helped with his resume and requesting the recommendations he needed in order to get approval to take the engineer licensing exam. He also had to take an English exam to qualify for the test.

At first, Khalid stayed with friends, and it was very crowded and noisy. He had difficulty studying for the English exam, but with only $300 a month in refugee assistance, landlords would not approve him for a unit. His career coach referred Khalid for rent assistance, and he was able to secure a unit quickly. His new home provides a safe and quiet space to study in order to pass the English exams and the professional engineering exam that he will be required to take in order to regain his certifications.

Once he had his own place, Khalid said, “I was able to focus on getting a job.” He found work as an electrical engineer at a construction firm and is working full time. Khalid has been approved to take the professional engineering exam in October and continues to study for it. His career coach will use support service funds to pay the costs and fees associated with taking the exam. At the same time, Khalid is already giving back to the community by helping others learn English and translating for them.

Theresa: Impressive work by Khalid and the team! How long have you been doing this collaborative work?

Stacey: This has been a journey of over five years. Meyer Memorial Trust supported work that brought all the relevant organizations together in these efforts. Human Solutions, as the housing hub, learned to share customers with IRCO, SE Works, Oregon Tradeswomen, Constructing Hope, Central City Concern and Human Solution’s own employment department. In more recent years, the network has grown to include Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, Latino Network, the Urban League of Portland and Black Parent Initiative. Our project also prioritized production of data on how efforts that career coaches and rent assistance coordinators make on behalf of their shared customers increase their success by orders of magnitude compared to prior disconnected approaches. Specifically, in 2017 we measured greater income increases (almost double the rate of increase) for customers in the shared approach compared to those who were not. And they were also 53% more likely to leave the program employed.

Theresa: What special role do the collaborative partners play in the project?

Stacey: They are the absolute champions of this effort. All the day-to-day changes to accommodate this new model have been made in a very consensus-oriented manner with good participation and communication amongst and between career coaches and rent assistance coordinators.

Theresa: What kind of challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

Stacey: We’ve found that systems alignment challenges can best be overcome with frequent and clear communications. With our system alignment work with the housing system, understanding each other’s performance metrics can be difficult, but the deeper we dig the more that we understand the intricacies of each other’s work with participants and how our decisions impact participant lives and performance outcomes for both systems.

Theresa: What do you hope happens going forward?

Stacey: I hope how career coaches and rent assistance coordinators work together will be sustained by the benefits that both colleagues create for customers’ outcomes. It took time for each area to learn one another’s strengths, procedures and how to best stabilize customers experiencing housing instability while pursuing employment goals. Now there’s a natural alliance where housing and employment are “everyone’s business.”

There are many ways the network has embraced the customer-centered teaming that happens when career coaches appreciate the intricacies of operating the housing hub and rent assistance coordinators take cues from training timeframes and employment activities to make sure customers can achieve their goals.

Theresa: Are you able to share the results of your work to a broader audience?

Stacey: There has been interest in this work by many national bodies. Currently, Portland is featured in the 2018 Systems Work Better Together: Strengthening Public Workforce & Homeless Service Systems Collaboration report by the Heartland Alliance. Also, this work has been featured to inspire states outside Oregon to consider utilizing public resources such as are utilized here to fund “SNAP to Skills” efforts that the USDA supports nationwide. An Oregon Housing and Community Services webinar was held with participation from housing professionals, workforce development staff and local funders around the country.

Theresa: Congratulations! Anything else you would like us to know?

Stacey: This goal of systems aligning for customer benefit is that everyone comes to see the connections as the most logical, natural and smooth way of working and doubts that it was ever any other way.

Theresa: That’s a great ending thought. Thank you so much, Stacey, for sharing the progress on this collaborative work to align systems.

Economic Opportunity Rent Assistance Program participants share experiences of using the EOP program at the A Home for Everyone coordinating board meeting in April 2019.

Economic Opportunity Rent Assistance Program participants share experiences of using the EOP program at the A Home for Everyone coordinating board meeting in April 2019.

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Oregon’s housing advocates aim high

When it comes to affordable housing issues, the legislative session that just wrapped up in Salem was one of the most momentous ever. Advocates won major victories around additional state funding, tenant protections, preservation, attention to manufactured housing and more flexible zoning that will help create more housing choice in desirable neighborhoods across the state. So much important work happened we can barely keep track of it, but our friends at the Oregon Housing Alliance have put together a handy summary here.

It may have been tempting in the past for philanthropic funders to shy away from advocacy, worrying that involvement in “political” work could compromise their moral authority or broader influence in the community somehow. More and more, we all realize that that kind of hesitation marks a huge missed opportunity. Meyer’s housing work has become increasingly engaged in the past few years with supporting advocacy, simply because that’s the path to real impact on the housing issues facing Oregonians. If we want to make a real difference in affordable housing (or the other core issues that define Meyer’s agenda and mission), we need to help build a broader constituency and inform public discussions and decisions that shape how cities, counties and the state address those issues. A Meyer grant may be important to the success of a particular housing project or service program supporting housing, but addressing the issues we care about at scale requires shifting public investments and public policy.

We can’t take credit for the big wins in Salem (or in city halls and county offices around the state), but we’re proud to support grassroots advocates, nonprofit leaders, policy experts and journalists who are building momentum, mobilizing people and crafting effective messaging around affordable housing.

This spring, we released our fourth Request for Proposals specifically to support housing advocacy work, inviting proposals for up to two years, with eligibility broadly defined to include projects that expand the number and diversity of voices engaged in housing advocacy and promote concrete policy and systems changes at both the local and statewide levels. Reflecting the high level of interest and activity around the state, we received 40 proposals — more than any previous housing-focused RFP! We are excited to share the results: 11 new grants totaling $1 million over the next two years:

Better Housing Together $80,000 (Lane County)

For a two year initiative to enlarge and increase the effectiveness of BHT’s growing cross-sector coalition to advocate for stronger pro-affordable housing policies and resources in Eugene, Springfield and the rest of Lane County.

Farmworker Housing Development Corporation $73,448 (Linn, Marion and Polk counties)

To support the Rural Development Housing Advocacy and Communications (RDHAC) initiative over two years, educating community leaders about the need for and contribution of affordable housing in the mid-Willamette Valley, building a stronger and more durable constituency to support more affordable housing development.

Business for a Better Portland $76,750 (Portland Metro)

To activate business voices to support housing diversity, mobilizing and amplifying the voices of progressive business owners around affordable housing issues in and around Portland.

Human Solutions $134,800 (Portland Metro)

For a two year collaborative, in partnership with Northwest Housing Alternatives and REACH CDC, mobilizing and supporting tenants of publicly subsidized affordable housing in East Portland to advocate for themselves and for affordable housing broadly. This work will complement and support a broader statewide effort led by the Housing Alliance to engage affordable housing residents.

Oregon Center for Public Policy $150,000 (Statewide)

To support equitable reform of Oregon’s biggest housing subsidy over two years for policy analysis and education concerning the state’s tax deduction for mortgage interest. OCPP will lead an experienced and savvy coalition of advocates to continue a focused, strategic plan for reform that could redirect unprecedented resources to affordable housing in Oregon.

OPAL $80,000 (Portland Metro)

To advance the movement for housing justice and develop leaders in low-income communities of color in East Portland and East Multnomah County and to expand OPAL’s housing justice work in Clackamas and Washington counties.

Q Housing Project $80,000 (Portland Metro)

To launch a two year initiative engaging the LGBTQ+ community in the Portland Metro area around specific unmet housing needs and development of a clear vision and action plan around LGBTQ+ friendly housing for youth, elders and families.

Street Roots $80,000 (Statewide)

To support Housing: The Next Generation, a news series reporting in-depth statistics and information related to the daunting housing situations confronting younger people in Oregon, utilizing a strong equity lens specifically calling attention to homeless youth, Native American youth, youth aging out of foster care and youth trapped in cycles of generational poverty.

Unite Oregon $85,000 (Washington County)

To support Washington County Equitable Housing Coalition, a partnership including HomePlate Youth Services (HPYS) and Community Housing Fund (CHF), to advance an equitable housing agenda that amplifies and incorporates the voices of immigrants, refugees, communities of color and youth into key housing policy discussions taking place over the next two years in Washington County.

Urban League of Portland $80,000 (Statewide)

To lead a statewide campaign to bring tenant screening policies into compliance with Fair Housing law to enable greater access to rental housing for African Americans and people of color living in Oregon.

Welcome Home Coalition Housing First Public Advocacy (Portland Metro)

$80,000 over two years to inform and influence the region’s push to reduce homelessness and expand the availability of permanent supportive housing (PSH), by centering the experience of people with lived experience in PSH.

We hope you’re as excited about this list as we are! And as impressive as that list is, it doesn’t show ongoing Meyer support for other key partners like the Oregon Housing Alliance, Community Alliance of Tenants, and Housing Oregon.

Hopefully too this reassures anyone who wondered about how the transition that essentially folded Meyer’s Affordable Housing Initiative into the Housing Opportunities portfolio would affect Meyer’s commitment to support systems-level change and grassroots mobilization around housing issues. We see housing advocacy as a high priority and already look forward to the next million dollars worth of grants.


Katrina Holland, executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants, speaks at a 2016 rally for tenants’ rights. Behind her, from left to right, are Jeri Jimenez, D. Pei Wu, Pastor Mark Knutson and Justin Buri.

Katrina Holland, executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants, speaks at a 2016 rally for tenants’ rights. Behind her, from left to right, are Jeri Jimenez, D. Pei Wu, Pastor Mark Knutson and Justin Buri.

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Resources from Meyer’s Equity Housing Summit: A follow-up on equitable practices

In August, Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio invited grantees that are keenly focused on housing or providing services to people experiencing homelessness to a daylong summit aimed at increasing equitable practices, policies and outcomes within the housing sector.

For nearly half a decade, Meyer has supported the efforts of many housing organizations in the development of their equity lens and work. The Equity Housing Summit was the culmination of those efforts. At Portland State University, Meyer’s Equity Housing Summit — Strategies to Advance the Fields, brought together more than 200 people to learn, connect and share insights and ideas as well as mark an important day for Meyer and the housing sector in Oregon.

During the event, plenary sessions grounded attendees with an equity framework for the day. An inspiring keynote from Meyer President and CEO Michelle J. DePass provided an honest reflection on our foundation’s equity journey and commitment to the work. Our special guest Glenn Harris, president and CEO of Race Forward, facilitated two enlightening plenary sessions focused on the “Racial Equity Imperative” and “Creating Racial Equity” and a breakout session about “Creating a Culture for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

During the breakouts, more than 40 different housing-focused organizations, from across Oregon, shared insights about the strengths and challenges they face in building equity into their work. With an emphasis on peer learning, the sessions offered a wide variety of presentations, such as Transforming Organizational Culture, Community Voice: Centering Lived Experience, and the History of Housing Discrimination in Oregon.

The summit was inspiring. People walked away with deepened commitments to equity and expanded connections with others in the sector who can strengthen and support their work.

Because equity work is always evolving, we hope that attendees continue to learn, connect and build stronger relationships with each other far beyond the summit. We also invite our partners and community members outside the Housing Opportunities portfolio to have access and learn from the information that was presented at the summit. To that end, we have created a new page on Meyer’s website dedicated to the Equity Housing Summit and sharing those resources. You can explore the new page here.

We hope our efforts keep the conversation going and keep us all learning. As Michelle J. DePass stated at the summit, “We have learned, and we keep learning, that is the only way we can inch forward.”

— co-authored by Lauren Waudé and Elisa Harrigan

2019 equity housing summit
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ICYMI: Meyer Memorial Trust Breaks Ground on North Portland Campus

On July 29, Meyer Memorial Trust staff, trustees and community partners celebrated the start of construction for the foundation's future home at 2045 North Vancouver Avenue.

The Portland Observer covered the groundbreaking ceremony about the 20,000-foot structure, just northeast of the Broadway Bridge, that will house office space for about 50 staff and feature a library, educational garden and convening space for all-hands meeting and collaborating with community partners:

“Establishing a permanent home in historic Albina is one way to show Meyer’s commitment to building partnerships and connections that help to make Oregon a flourishing and equitable state,” said Meyer president & CEO Michelle J. DePass."

Read the full story about Meyer’s new campus in historic Albina here.

From left to right, Meyer president and CEO Michelle J. DePass, trustee Janet Hamada, board chair Toya Fick, trustee Alice Cuprill-Comas and trustee Mitch Hornecker (not shown trustee Charles Wilhoite). (Photo by Fred Joe)

From left to right, Meyer president and CEO Michelle J. DePass, trustee Janet Hamada, board chair Toya Fick, trustee Alice Cuprill-Comas and trustee Mitch Hornecker (not shown trustee Charles Wilhoite). | Photo by Fred Joe

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Myth: Disparities in education are not an issue of race but rather an issue of poverty

In partnership with Dr. Ann Curry-Stevens, Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio debunks incessant myths that act as barriers to education equity in Oregon. This blog is intended to provoke both thought and action, offering an opportunity to look beyond common myths and re-imagine a public education system rich in opportunity.

Historically, when issues of racial equity are talked about people will often say that the problem isn’t racism but rather that people of color are more likely to be poor and that any discrepancies that exist (either in terms of opportunities or outcomes) are more the result of poverty than race.

A study produced in Oregon by the Center to Advance Racial Equity compared racial groups within similar income categories to see what level of academic achievement was attained by each group.1 The findings showed that in Oregon, when comparing academic achievement of higher income students (wealthier students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch subsidies) to other students, students of color were not as able to reach the same levels of academic success. And that “while income remains a protective factor for all student groups (meaning high income students do better than low income students), even economically advantaged students of color are, on average, unable to gain the educational results attained by economically advantaged white students.”2

Academic achievement differences were visible in elementary and middle schools, presenting about a 5 percentage point difference in test scores, both in English and math. In high school, the gap doubles and more affluent white students have test scores that are approximately 10 percentage points higher in both math and literacy. Graduation rates are also significantly better for white students, at 85 percent compared with 81 percent for students of color.3 In short, even among the more affluent students, students of color face barriers that interrupt their educational progress, while white students are able to take fuller advantage of the benefits of higher incomes.

The second study looked at these patterns across time and found that, in comparison with the 1950s and 1960s, there is in fact a reduction of the influence of race on student success and rising influence of family income.4 This insight does not invalidate the prior study, but it brings forward a troubling view that suggests progress has been made in reducing the influence of racism in student achievement.

But not so fast …

This isn’t much of a good news story. The main cause is that income inequality has been surging in the past 40 years and low income students increasingly are part of single parent families where fewer adults being present narrow the likelihood of enough time to support homework and reinforce academic needs. Also implicated is that students of color are increasingly likely to attend high poverty schools,5at levels eight to 10 times higher than that of white students.6 In essence, income inequality is outpacing the influence of racial dynamics. Racial disparities by income remain intact (as the first study indicates), though they have reduced over the past two generations, but inequities have worsened due to rising income inequality.

These data are important to disprove the idea that racial disparities are simply an indicator of more important consequences of inequality—income. These aren’t data that absolutely disprove that income matters more than race but are evidence that confirm beyond any doubt that a large comparative study of students is needed, collecting their racial and income demographics, tracking income changes and how that impacts their academic performance over time. Simply put: The study should track all students in a district or state and assess how incomes and race influence school performance. The current problem is that the education system does not track income, except for student eligibility for free and reduced lunch programs, which captures those with incomes up to about twice the poverty level.

Until this comparative study is done, we draw from the best available evidence that shows even affluent students of color still are unable to get the same level of academic achievement as their white counterparts. We ask that educators build the ability to shoulder the possibility that racism exists in their schools, classrooms and teaching. We also know that most people, including educators, do not want to believe themselves capable of racism, despite the fact that studies show 96 percent of educators hold unfavorable bias toward students of color.7 It’s easier to believe that educators fail students due to income barriers rather than race bias.

Is it really hard to believe that our schools are not performing well enough to support children of color and many educators deflect issues of race and redefine them as poverty or income related?

Frankly, it’s easier to think we fail students because they don’t have enough resources at home than because we educate white students better than students of color. The available research shows that racial equity and educational dimensions that include harmful elements of racism and white privilege must be the focus of school and education system reform efforts.


  1. Sinkey, A. & Curry-Stevens, A. (2015). Equity in education: Disaggregating student outcomes by race and income in Oregon. Portland, OR: Center to Advance Racial Equity, Portland State University. 

  2. P.36, in Sinkey, A. & Curry-Stevens, A. (2015). Equity in education: Disaggregating student outcomes by race and income in Oregon. Portland, OR: Center to Advance Racial Equity, Portland State University. 

  3. P.36, in Sinkey, A. & Curry-Stevens, A. (2015). Equity in education: Disaggregating student outcomes by race and income in Oregon. Portland, OR: Center to Advance Racial Equity, Portland State University. 

  4. Reardon, as cited by Bernhardt, P. (2013). The Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) Program: Providing cultural capital and college access to low-income students. School Community Journal, 23(1), 203-222. 

  5. Reardon, S. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In G. Duncan & R Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools and children’s life chances (pp.91-116). New York: Russell Sage & Spencer Foundations. 

  6. Wise, T. (2016). What is your perception? Unpacking white privilege. At Teaching with Purpose. Portland, Oregon. 

  7. Clark, P., & Zygmunt, E. (2014). A close encounter with personal bias: Pedagogical implications for teacher education. The Journal of Negro Education, 83(2), 147–161. 

The Franklin High School Class of 2013, celebrating on graduation day. Photo credit: Matt Morton

The Franklin High School Class of 2013, celebrating on graduation day. Photo credit: Matt Morton

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