“You’re not going to kick me out because I’m going to run away,” I told my mom. I was 16. I dropped out of school.
On the streets, I may look okay when actually I haven’t eaten for three days. I was scared to ask for help. But I knew if I had a little bit of help, I’d make it.
Outside In fed me, clothed me, got me bus passes and Internet access. It was like a family.
Outside In is legit. The people there helped me see a doctor and weren’t weirded out. They helped with housing. They wouldn’t just watch me being homeless, they wouldn’t just watch me not going to school. One case manager drove me to every test – he was like an uncle, a teacher, a mentor, and a taxi!
Right after I graduated with my GED they helped me to enroll in college. They gave parenting support and anger management classes. I’m still scrappy, but I got it under control.
Now I’m 25. I’m raising three girls. In June, I graduated from Portland Community College with honors – an associate’s degree in sociology.
I’m going into a field where I can help. I can vouch for people of color. I can help people make healthy connections.
Outside In made me want to be around excellence. Outside In shaped me. It taught me how to be kind to people less fortunate.
My story goes back to the fall of 95.
I was seventeen and as a result of an unstable and unhealthy home life, I had just found myself wandering the streets of downtown Portland with forty dollars in my pocket and nowhere to go. Words cannot describe how it felt to try to wrap my young mind around the fact that I was now homeless.
I walked through the night and eventually found my way to Outside In. They took me in and gave me a case manager who helped me assess my situation. Outside In covered my security deposit and first month’s rent for an apartment and connected me to a full time job. Through Outside In’s guidance and support, I was in my own apartment completely self-sufficient within a week. For months my case manager continued reaching out to me, working to connect me with programs and supports, I remember even receiving a toaster oven as a holiday gift.
Today, I have a family of my own – a wife, and two incredible daughters. I work as Firefighter/Paramedic. Like those at Outside In, I see and do my best to help people through crisis everyday I’m on shift.
If you met me today, you might never imagine I spent countless nights sleeping under the Burnside Bridge.
I wasn’t always comfortable sharing this with people, I worried it might change how they saw me. However, I’ve realized the power my story holds and how much my past has shaped my passions today — professionally in my work as Community Engagement Advisor for Multnomah County and personally as a member of the Board of Directors at Outside In.
I have personally seen how the smallest amount of help can put people on a path to stability. How providing something as simple as a meal or new glasses can create trust and open the doors to long term change.
Organizations that are successful are innovative and unyielding in their commitment to the diverse needs of the people they serve – whether that is offering an education, employment, medical care, or a safe place to call home.
My past is a part of who I am today and Outside In has a place in my heart that speaks to who I am and how I got here.
When I first came out as trans and reached out to the community for help, everyone had something good to say about Outside In. I immediately felt heard and accepted by all the staff I interacted with. My doctor helped me start hormones without the hassle I’d heard from so many other trans people in other areas. Having just finished medical assisting school, I applied to Outside In to give back to the communities that helped make me who I am. I was sad to leave the clinic as a patient, but thrilled to join the team as a medical assistant.
When I first came to Outside In, I was struggling with severe mental health issues and suicidality. I was received warmly by all the staff I encountered and my doctor and behavioral health worker helped me realize I wasn’t alone. They got me started on medication, and connected me with the Outside In’s youth department. Through these connections I was able to get into school and graduate as a Certified Medical Assistant, and I started working at Outside In. Now I work as a Panel Manager helping our most vulnerable population, giving back to the community that I was once a part of.
I often tell others that when I first came to the Outside In clinic for primary care, I was lost in my own life, seeking a greater sense of purpose, but without a clue where to find it. As a patient at OI, the dignity, compassion, and respect that I was shown by staff—from the folks at the front desk to the medical assistants to the medical providers—truly had a lasting impact on me and directly resulted in me wanting to get involved in helping my community. As an employee, Outside In has challenged me to believe in my own capacity to help others, provided me opportunities to grow both personally and professionally, and has fundamentally altered the trajectory of my life for the better.
Gregor was born in Colombia and adopted by an American family. When he came out of the closet at age 17, his family disowned him. They believed being gay was a form of mental illness. Forced out onto the street, Gregor had nowhere to turn. Then he discovered Outside In.
With a place to live and positive support from staff members and volunteers, he could focus on planning his future. He studied for his GED and set his college goals high, applying to New York University, Julliard, and the City University of New York. He was accepted to every school he applied to. He got a job at Nordstrom once he finished his GED, then moved to New York City to attend college.
When I fled my country, I was 15 years old. I didn’t want to flee, I had to flee. The government was beating and killing my people. By the grace of Allah, I lived.
Leaving my parents, my village, and all I knew, I joined 1,000 other Rohingyas in a desperate attempt to survive. We put our lives in the hands of human smugglers on the Indian Ocean. They broke their promises of safety and abandoned us. For three months we floated, running out of food and water, until the boat began to sink.
I watched helplessly as hundreds drowned. Women and children. Friends. In the end, only 450 survived. I was one of the lucky ones.
After three years and 15 interviews, the United States granted my request for refugee status and assigned me to Portland. I arrived last spring.
People like you, who support Outside In, make it possible for people like me to get help, to find hope. I thank you.
I feel safe at Outside In. I work every day with a tutor at Outside In’s school. I see doctors at Outside In’s clinic. Burmese police detained and beat me when I was 12, and when I walk I am reminded of my pain. I love the doctors, they are kind and respectful.
I love Outside In people. How they love us, care for us. The wonderful and fresh food, the health care, the accommodations, the hospitalities. People talking to me, listening to me. Changing lives. It is a great moment.
Because of you, I have help to keep alive the dream of a new life. Of course, it is hard to express… I crossed many countries and I lost so much. I want to study politics and journalism so I can change policy and share the history of the Rohingya people. We have been voiceless for many years. We are the people to stand for the rights of others.
Everyone deserves basic human rights, and to have hope.