One woman’s journey from homelessness to housing in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — A red, broken-down car stands out from the dozens of trailers parked along the west side of Northeast 33rd Drive. The bright car marks the site where 50-year-old Tara Pietromonaco has lived for nearly three years.

“Out here, you just get to the point where you just don’t even care,” she said.

Like many of the chronically homeless people on that street, Pietromonaco was so focused on surviving each night she didn’t know how to find affordable housing.=

“You don’t have anything to organize your things with. You don’t have a stable environment. You don’t know if you’re going to have to pick up and leave,” she explained.

It’s a lifestyle that’s worn on her since she became homeless after leaving prison, where she did time for identity theft.

“I’ve just been having a hard time getting back up on my feet again,” she told KGW reporter Blair Best when they first met in July of 2022. Pietromonaco had just been bumped to the bottom of a Section 8 housing list.

Waiting for Section 8 housing can take several years and, in the meantime, Pietromonaco had nowhere else to go except for a makeshift shelter consisting of a trailer and a few cars along Northeast 33rd. It was a place where her safety was often at risk.

She fought off rats, struggled to stay warm, and often found herself unable to meet basic needs, like finding water.

“When I don’t have gas in my generator, I sleep in my car because of the rats,” she explained that day in July.

However, dozens of people just like her are getting into transitional housing through the help of outreach workers at JOIN, a Portland nonprofit.

“We meet people where they are, and we’re housing-first,” explained Anthony Robertson, JOIN’s landlord recruitment team manager.

A few years ago, JOIN partnered with Kevin Cavenaugh, who runs a real estate company called Guerilla Development. They’re doing something different, building apartment buildings specifically for homeless people.

“Living in the city, it’s impossible to ignore the homelessness crisis, the affordable housing crisis, so because we make buildings we are on the frontlines of the problem — and hopefully the solution too,” said Cavenaugh.

The building is located in Southeast Portland and has 10 rooms. When KGW visited the building this past fall, only nine rooms were filled. So, KGW told JOIN about Pietromonaco.

“It’s like turning the page”

The following is the conversation between KGW reporter Blair Best and JOIN’s outreach workers Gurney and Mike when they approached Tara Pietromonaco at her campsite. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

JOIN outreach workers: This is hers right here?

Best: This is hers.

JOIN: Tara, have you heard of JOIN before?

Pietromonaco: Kind of …

JOIN: We were talking earlier, maybe there might be an opportunity to help you into a place, into an apartment that you could afford just on your social security while you’re waiting for subsidized housing — which might take a year, could take multiple years. But instead of being outside for all that time we might be able to get you into a place. A studio apartment situation.

Pietromonaco: That would be awesome

JOIN: At JOIN we manage apartment complexes, they’re kind of SROs a little bit, but it’s a cool place.

Pietromonaco: What’s an SRO?

JOIN: Single room occupancy. So, it means you would get a bedroom but it’s a house where everybody shares a common kitchen space, and everybody shares a couple bathrooms and showers. There are nine other residents. You would be the 10th resident. It’s mixed male and female, primarily women.

Pietromonaco: Would my boyfriend be able to stay with me too sometimes?

JOIN: Sometimes. I can leave you the information — it’s all in here, including a lease. Its move-in ready basically. If you want, I can pick you up tomorrow.

Pietromonaco: That’d be that’d be awesome … I mean, I just need out of here.

JOIN: And Tara, no pressure … if you see it, you like it, you can have it — you can move in there. I can give you keys tomorrow. I’m going to leave this with you, put the information into the lease, sign where it says resident and then when I pick you up tomorrow. So I’ll be down here tomorrow around 4:30 alright? Alright give me a hug. We’ll get you out of this cold and wind.

Pietromonaco: Thank you …

JOIN: It’s like a fresh start in a lot of ways, Tara. It’s like turning the page and getting a fresh start, you know.

Pietromonaco: Awesome, thank you so much and I will see you at 4:30 tomorrow.

Blair Best and photojournalist Ken McCormick caught up with Pietromonaco at 4:15 p.m. the next day.

“I want to thank you, I just want to thank you for that. I’ve been thinking about it and I’m just like going, ‘Am I really going to be getting off the street again?’” Pietromonaco said.

Shortly after, JOIN outreach worker Gurney showed up. He helped her pack a trash bag full of clothes and loaded it into the back of his black Jeep. Though eager to leave in many ways, Pietromonaco found that the thought of leaving her brother, who is also homeless, was holding her back.

“I’m not leaving you! I’ll be back. I promise I’ll be back,” she called out to him.

Gurney drove her 30 minutes away to the apartment building in Southeast that had the stability she was searching for.

Once there, Pietromonaco met her nine other housemates, and with Gurney’s help, she started making her bed with the sheets and blankets that JOIN provided. She was also given hygiene supplies, a bag of food and a bottle of laundry detergent. She talked of the adjustments she now faced, even pointing out how quiet the room was compared to the cacophony of the streets.


Pietromonaco moved into that apartment on November 18. She left the same night to go back to her site on Northeast 33rd to check on her brother. She wanted to make sure he had enough propane to keep his trailer warm overnight.

KGW was told that she returned to the apartment building two days later and at last check, has been there ever since.

On Thursday, she shared her story when she testified in front of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, advocating for more money to be spent on housing the homeless. The following is an excerpt from her testimony:

“My name’s Tara Pietromonaco … I lost my housing a while back ago. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s been kind of hard because I lost everything — I lost my husband, my kids, everything. And I got put out on the street. I’ve never been on the streets before and I’m telling you it’s not fun, it’s the hardest thing.

“I’ve been trying to get help and I just didn’t know where to go, and this news lady came out and she talked to me. And I met her a while back but she recognized me and she’s like, ‘What are you doing out here?’ and I said, ‘I just don’t know where to go. I don’t have anywhere to go.’ The next day, Gurney and someone else showed up at my door and said, ‘We’d like to take you for a drive’ … I just think that funding for the housing people would be helpful because that’s what some of us on the street really need.”

Pietromonaco is now meeting with a case worker and working on getting into subsidized housing. Since JOIN started managing the apartment building in 2019, they’ve had a 100% success rate of moving people like Pietromonaco into permanent housing or successfully keeping them in transitional apartments while they work toward the next step.

© 2023 KOBI-TV NBC5. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Skip to content