1. IRCO: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization

6.9 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes since 2011, creating an influx of (mis)information and opinion on immigration and refugees. It can be confusing on what is accurate and how to help. The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization’s mission “is to promote the integration of refugees, immigrants and the community at large into a self-sufficient, healthy and inclusive multi-ethnic society.”

Since 1976 the IRCO has helped establish understanding and communication amongst immigrants and refugees and Portland communities. With the majority of leadership in the organization having been refugees themselves, they provide a cultural passage in a number of ways: language services (over 50 languages), employment and training, anti-poverty assistance, community and economic development, empowering families and youth, and counseling. This creates a bottom-up structure, instead of a top-down — producing a culturally and linguistic organization.

On November 19th, the IRCO asked its staff what they would want others to know about refugees. They photographed their responses and placed it on their Facebook page:

“Refugees are human and they want a safe place to live like other human beings.”
“No one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
“Refugees deserve same compassion like we do when we are in trouble.”
“Refugees have the same hopes and dreams for their families that we have.”

If you want to support the immigrant and refugee initiative, you don’t need to wait for Congress. Reach out and contact the IRCO and become an ally to a refugee.

2. New Avenues for Youth

All you have to do is walk the streets of Portland to know there is a homeless epidemic and youth are not immune. New Avenues for Youth, established in 1997, meets the growing needs of foster, homeless and at-risk youth, ages 16-24. They offer the basics of food and shelter, but self-sufficiency is the overall goal by providing multiple avenues of education and job training.

The group has recently made headlines by opening Portland’s first housing program for LGBTQ homeless youth – the Unity House. Research shows seven percent of the overall youth population in the United States identify as LGBTQ, with forty percent being homeless. The youth are kicked out of homes because of their sexual orientation, or they do not feel their home is a safe place.

New Avenues for Youth also supports youth who are transitioning out of foster care. Data suggests within three months of turning eighteen and leaving the foster system, up to forty percent of foster youth end up on the streets. New Avenues uses innovated strategies such as independent living programs to educate the youth before leaving foster care. The workshops teach life skills such as: getting your identification, opening a bank account, renting an apartment, budgeting, and cooking. They also have job-readiness programs with hands-on job training.

3. GO Box

A new Yale-led study published in the journal Nature Climate Change indicates we have 262 million tons of municipal solid waste we disposed of in the United States in 2012. The Ocean Cleanup site reveals we have eight million tons of plastic entering the ocean every year. GO Box, a reusable container system for to-go food, is doing their part in reducing waste and sustaining our earth.

How it works: For a $1.50 a month, or $18 per year, you get your meal in a reusable, durable take-out container from participating vendors. When you are finished with your meal, you dispose of your container at designated drop site, where you will receive a token. GO Box then picks up the containers and professionally-sanitizes them in a commercial kitchen. After, they are returned to vendors by bicycle.

GO Box also has a corporate program. An attractive bamboo drop box is made available at the office to collect used containers and a member of the office staff is given tokens to be distributed amongst participates. If you do not want to use a token, a mobile app is available.

According to the GO Box website, “The food carts in downtown Portland use roughly 60,000 disposable containers every month. Nearly all end up in the landfill, even the compostable ones.”

4. Micro Communities Concepts

It can be difficult to find affordable housing. It can be overwhelming to save money for a security deposit when living paycheck to paycheck. And with market rents rising, small living becomes essential.

Micro Communities Concepts is a nonprofit organization addressing Portland’s housing concerns. They are paving the way in trying to provide micro-houses, or tiny homes, for “people living on the fringes of our economy.” Micro-houses would be about two hundred square feet and would cost $12,000 to build. They would rent for as little as two hundred and fifty dollars a month.

The Portland City Council has given Micro Communities Concepts approval for a micro- community — the Glenfair Pilot Project — to be built. The project is self-sustaining. Approximately fifty percent of the rents collected will be used to pay staff and maintain the community, with the other fifty percent building the next micro-community.