By Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer
When you hear about a young entrepreneur who moves to a new city, puts everything on the line and bootstraps their business from a makeshift office in a basement, you probably imagine the origin stories of a tech start-up like Snapchat or Facebook.
But to get his fledgling nonprofit off its feet in 2015, Chris Aiosa out-hustled your average tech firm, and not for eye-popping profits or fancy offices. Instead, he started Do Good Multnomah for one thing only: to put a roof over the heads of homeless military veterans.
An Air Force vet himself, Aiosa spent years as a case manager for local homelessness nonprofits such as Transition Projects and Central City Concern. It was there that he realized some clients were falling through the cracks, or not getting served at all. “Housing programs,” he says, “tend to screen people out rather than screen them in.”
The Do Good crew, mostly made up of vets, works hard and they work long, but Aiosa says that’s because the need is so strong. At last count, there were 426 homeless veterans living on the streets of Portland, and the numbers grow every year.
So in 2015, Aiosa hatched a plan for a shelter that would cater exclusively to vets and, after opening up with 13 beds in the cramped basement of a downtown church, they quickly outgrew the space. Before they knew it their little organization was expanding into a newer, larger shelter in the Rose City neighborhood.
The space itself is only one piece of a larger puzzle. “A vet-specific shelter provides instant camaraderie with others,” Aiosa says. “Like a brotherhood. Vets do better with other vets.” Their goal wasn’t just to provide a shelter; it was to offer comfort and solace.
But when they opened their new location in 2016, Aiosa admits, he had more vision than plan.
Short on staff and long on responsibility during that first year, he worked graveyard shifts and did the residents’ laundry at his house since the shelter had no washer and dryer, then spent the few hours he had between waking up and going back to work on the phone, making orders and answering client referrals. It was pure, mission-driven hustle.
It’s their newest project in Northeast that has Aiosa the most excited. Set to be built in the Piedmont neighborhood, this will be an apartment complex dedicated to the permanent housing needs of about 28 veterans. Whereas many shelters offer only a temporary stopping point for those experiencing houselessness, Do Good will provide them their own space and the opportunity to be part of the larger Northeast community in a neighborhood that is close to transit, grocery stores and, most importantly, neighbors.
What Do Good Multnomah builds, then, isn’t more housing but more homes; a home base for our community’s veterans who have already sacrificed enough.
Find out more at: www.dogoodmultnomah.org