Building ‘Hygiene Hubs’ for Houseless Residents
Three recent alums have served at Hygiene4All, a Portland-based nonprofit that works to ensure those who are unsheltered have equal access to basic resources like hot showers, trash disposal, and first aid.
Hygiene4All opened its first bright blue hub under the Morrison Bridge, a place where houseless Portlanders could come and access critical resources, such as hot showers, public bathrooms, basic medical care, and laundry services. These hygiene hubs are designed to foster community connection and respect across the housing divide that has captured the city’s political consciousness over the last several years.In 2020,
The seeds of the nonprofit began in 2018, when the Central Eastside Industrial Council petitioned the City of Oregon to form an “Enhanced Service District” that would enable the private policing of houselessness in the area. Over the next two years, an alternative solution began to take shape, led by the emerging Hygiene4All in collaboration with unsheltered residents, local nonprofits, and other grassroots organizations. In these early days, Zack Hart BA ’21 was brought on as Hygiene4All’s first hub director.
“Houselessness is made out to be a complex issue, but in some ways, it’s really not,” Hart said. “We need to simply provide a compassionate, smart solution.”
Hart, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Washington, connected with Nova Platt BA ’21 about the work of Hygiene4All ahead of their graduation. She assumed the role of hub director shortly after, and only recently stepped down from the position in May to pursue a master’s degree in the same program this coming fall. Kamala Woods BA ’21 has also been involved in the organization, later going on to produce and direct a documentary on houselessness in California.
Last September, Isabel McTighe BA ’22 became the latest Lewis & Clark alum to join the staff as a site coordinator. Hart continues to be an active part of the organization’s development, which they call “another home.”
Platt, a psychology major, draws a natural connection to her work at Hygiene4All and close involvement in community-driven work as a Lewis & Clark student. As a first-year student, she volunteered with the Maybelle Center for Community through the college’s Center for Social Change and Community Involvement, visiting those in low-income housing experiencing social isolation. Later, she took a course with Assistant Professor With Term Amelia Wilcox on psychiatric health, which offered a deeper look at the systems of oppression involved in mental health, including houselessness.
“At Hygiene4All, there is a lot of advocacy at the city level to push back against anti-houselessness policies, which goes hand-in-hand with the everyday work,” Platt said. “That’s what drew me to the organization––its appreciation of the systems that are stacked against people, as opposed to blaming the problem on individual decisions people make.”
“We were teaching each other about how to live and work together and taking responsibility for our well-being as a group,” McTighe said. “It’s a value I see reflected in my work at Hygiene4All: showing up for the people you’re in community with.”
For Platt and McTighe, who are both Portland natives, there is a hope that Hygiene4All continues to grow with intention, creating additional hubs throughout the city and acting as a model that can be emulated elsewhere.
“I hope the philosophy spreads more than anything,” Platt said. “I think a lot of folks look away from the unhoused community and avoid talking about it because it’s painful and scary. But if more people saw unhoused folks as their neighbors and as their community, we would treat them better.”
This is a sentiment shared by Hart and McTighe. “We are our neighbors,” McTighe added. “The people in our community are us.”