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Tech Community Gathers to Provide Relief for People Living Outside

Impact Kits Skip and daughter

The number of people living outside continues to increase in the Portland Metro Area – a trend which becomes even more concerning as the weather gets colder. TAO members and other folks in the local tech community will be able to help provide short-term relief for our neighbors during for the second-annual Impact Kit event on Monday, November 12.

Created by Portland-area nonprofit Impact NW and hosted by Prosper Portland, the event will take place from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. A limited number of volunteer positions are still open by contacting Peter Gallagher at Impact NW (pgallagher@impactnw.org).  

I recently spoke with Emily Barrett, Community Ambassador for AWS Elemental, an Amazon Web Services company, and a co-founder of the Impact Kit Committee, about how Portland’s tech sector can do its part to help make a difference for individuals and families in crisis.

Barrett notes that the inspiration for the Impact Kits came from employees in the local Portland office of digital marketer Clover. In the course of becoming acquainted with people living in the park and street areas near their office last year, the two tech workers gained insights into the challenges and needs of displaced individuals. “These conversations were a real wake-up call and gave them daily visibility into the immediate needs of people living outside,” said Barrett. “Through our membership in the TAO, employees from five Portland companies subsequently came together with Clover and formed the Impact Kit Committee, in partnership with Impact NW. We enlisted volunteers to purchase items such as toothpaste, hand warmers, and soft snacks, assemble the contents into kits, and then distribute them during street outreach – a first experience for many of us.

“Housing counselors from Impact NW will again be training volunteers on the basics of street outreach,” states Barrett. “Even though this project is about making someone’s morning better with a Kit, and providing a source of funding for Impact NW longer-term, it also opens a place for more understanding and compassion within the tech industry for those that are homeless.  This event galvanizes our industry to come together and look at the problem with more heart.”

Mayor Wheeler and Congresswoman Bonamici will be speaking to volunteers at this event, taking place on Veterans Day, reminding us that housing is a priority across government, social, and private sectors. Barrett says, “It’s often easier to just look away from this problem, but this is an opportunity to look, learn and engage, rather than say it’s overwhelming and we can’t handle this situation. This care leads to action, and together we make good changes in the city.” In a statement, Congresswoman Bonamici said, “Helping others is one of the many ways to honor the men and women who served our county in the armed forces. I look forward to joining Impact NW, local tech companies, and other volunteers on Veterans Day as we participate in giving back to the community by assembling kits for people who are struggling to find permanent housing. We know that even after years of service, veterans themselves are often unable to secure a place to live and need our support.”

“As the weather grows colder, the Impact Kit project provides a good avenue for addressing the right-now needs of our neighbors who live outside,” said Barrett. “The challenge, however, lies in also addressing the long-term needs of individuals and families in crisis. More broadly speaking, we must work to break down perceived barriers, and to address the need for energy assistance, rent, housing stabilization, and, ultimately, pathways out of poverty.”

Impact Kit volunteers will assemble 500 Impact Kits at this year’s event with the support of AWS Elemental, Cloudability, Cozy, New Relic, Survey Monkey, and Sheer ID. Collectively they are purchasing kit supplies, sending employees to volunteer, and helping fund Impact NW programs for direct rent and utility assistance, especially during the colder months when bills increase.

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