2017 Prize Winner
Hoos is tireless, hungry for justice, fiercely defensive of their participants, and provides much-needed comic relief. Youve heard of people being a ray of sunshine - Hoos is a blast of rainbows and lightning bolts. They use every tool they have to fight for the dignity of their participants and demand competence from the institutions that are meant to serve them.
Lindsay Hyland, former co-worker
I was never much of a fan of rulesuntil I got into housing law, says Amethyst Hoos, 29, a case manager for veterans and their housing needs. (Editors note: Hoos is trans queer and prefers to be identified by gender-neutral plural pronouns, such as they and their.)
Hoos works at the veteran service branch of Transition Projects on East Burnside Street, where their desk is a hub for paperwork, calls to landlords and meetings with clients. Hoos meets at least four veterans a day and aims to find housing for five clients each month, often succeeding.
The challenges include: convincing landlords they should follow housing law; using various grantsincluding one-time funds for emergenciesto help participants; and addressing issues that occur once those vets find housing.
When theyre housed, Hoos says, I want to meet them in their space to celebrate that its theirs now. Later, there can be serious challengeseverything from failing to pay rent to setting fires in hallways. When those challenges arise, Hoos actively advocates for the veterans in their fold.
Crisis counseling is a large part of Hoos work, with many days spent in unexpected meetings shepherding clients through troubles.
Sometimes its just sitting down with someone and giving them a cup of ramen noodles, chatting with them about their day and how theyre going to get through that moment, Hoos says.
Hoos own background includes a childhood in poverty, with addicted family members struggling to access social services. When Hoos left for college in Cincinnati, they helped found a new relief shelter for their new urban community. This exposed Hoos to an entirely new world unlike the conservative one of rural Indiana and began their career in social work.
Despite that most of Hoos participants are trying to survive on $659 Social Security checks each month, the role comes by positive moments.
Ive seen veterans who have been homeless for 10 years get into housing for the first time, Hoos says. Ive helped women veterans who are fleeing domestic violence find housing, gain employment and access childcare.
One of Hoos favorite techniques is to incorporate stones and gems into their meetings. The tangible objects, says Hoos, give participants something besides bleak circumstances to focus on. Hoos will share the magical properties of each rock to make their client laugh or feel better, whether or not they believe in the rocks powers. Hoos also incorporates deep breathing and meditation, even when vets seem initially reluctant.
Im working with veterans. These are [mostly] middle-aged white men, Hoos says. Theyre not trying to get into their feels, but Im trying to help them along.
Housing is a key ingredient in their success, and Hoos, with a fierce energy for justice and a commitment to human rights, is one of their most capable, caring advocates.
Bottom Line for Portland
Hoos places 60 veterans into housing each year, while managing a rolling caseload of 40 clients at any one time. Hoos is also an inaugural member of the Equity Committee at Transition Projects Inc., an organization that serves nearly 10,000 people annually.
This prize is generously sponsored by the Standard.