A Real Greenhouse Effect

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EDUCATION–(l-r) Commissioner Doreen Edwards, Debbie Coppenger, and Rowanne Haley visit the Greenhouse alternative school facility.

“The kids we serve usually fall through the cracks of the regular system,” said Greenhouse Director Debbie Coppenger. For the past 15 years, The Salvation Army’s Greenhouse, a drop-in emergency and support services program, has provided a safe haven for homeless youth–a population that has swelled to nearly 2,000 in downtown Portland.

“We see 1,000 kids a year at the Greenhouse,” said Coppenger. “Eighty-seven percent of the kids come from a 25-mile radius.” Homeless–not runaways–most have suffered abuse before leaving home; for most, the streets are safer than the environment they left.

With the recent purchase of the building that houses the Greenhouse, and the planned addition of 55 crisis shelter beds, services will be available 24 hours a day beginning in May. “At 2 a.m., there needs to be a place for kids that’s not on the streets,” said Coppenger.

Currently, the program operates from 3-9 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year. Nine staff and more than 100 volunteers provide services including food, clothing, counseling, shower and laundry facilities, a medical clinic, recreation program and pre-employment training. In addition, the Greenhouse offers an alternative school, helping students prepare for their GED tests or finish high school credits. The school, which meets from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, is administered by a certified teacher, a teaching assistant, and volunteer tutors.

One client received a scholarship to Portland Community College, where she studied to become an automobile mechanic. She had hit the streets at age 12, later became pregnant, and had experienced a life filled with brokenness. Her course of study was perfect for her, she felt, because for the first time in her life she was learning to fix broken things.

The $2.1 million purchase and renovation project, funded jointly between The Salvation Army and Multnomah County, will increase the facility’s size from the 4,500 sq. feet it now leases to ownership of the 17,000 sq. foot building.

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