PORTLAND - "I was so delighted to get the letter from HUD," Paul Lumley, the executive director of NAYA - the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon - said in an early July virtual press conference announcing its designation as the nation's 49th HUD EnVision Center, the first in Oregon and the third nationally to focus on Tribal residents and Tribal communities.
That's something NAYA has been doing for 45 years, initially offering after-school and sports programs to Native young people whose families have moved from Tribal lands to Oregon's largest city in search of jobs and opportunities. Incorporated as a non-profit in 1994, Lumley explained, "it really took off," continuing its work connecting with schools but also establishing a homeownership program, early childhood education classes, Native language courses, a food pantry, operating affordable housing complexes, a commercial kitchen that prepares and delivers meals to the homebound and launching a community economic development program to help people start their own businesses.
Located on what, long before Portland ever became a city, had been the site of the Native village of Neerchokikoo, NAYA today is a place, Tawna Sanchez, its director of its family services and an Oregon State Representative, said, "where when people come into our community and wonder where do you go, you go to NAYA. If you need something you go to NAYA." You show up in one place, she added "that's where we all are."
And show up they do. In a typical year it touches the lives of some 10,000 Native people representing some 380 Tribes whose members have made their homes in the Portland metropolitan area, the 9th largest Native community in the United States.
As HUD Northwest Regional Administrator Jeff McMorris noted in the press conference, NAYA already is offering the kind of on-site, wrap-around, one-stop services that HUD Secretary Ben Carson had in mind when, just two years ago, first began encouraging HUD's partners to establish EnVision Centers, a single place in a community where many of our most at-risk and in-need could go to meet face-to-face with representatives of programs that could on-the-spot, provide them with the services they needs. A long-time HUD partner, he said, NAYA "has long been a guiding light in helping HUD find more effective and innovative ways to better serve Tribal citizens and communities."
"As Secretary Carson has said, housing assistance should be something more than just putting a roof over someone's head," he added which is why the EnVision Center model rests on "four pillars of self-sufficiency - health and wellness, educational advancement, economics empowerment and character and leadership." NAYA has long been working in all four of these areas.
So, if NAYA has done so much so long and so well, you may wonder, why did it seek designation as an HUD EnVision Center? Be assured, it's not about the money, especially since there is no dedicated or other Federal funding stream that supports the good work EnVision Centers do. One day, hopefully, there will be but until then what the EnVision Center designation can do is to open doors and make connections with other Federal agencies and other opportunities to expand and enrich the already impressive array of services NAYA already offers. In fact, more than a half-dozen other Federal agencies - from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the SBA, from Health and Human Services to the IRS - joined the virtual press conference and, ever since, probably have been thinking about how they can use the NAYA EnVision Center to spread the word about and increase the utilization of their programs.
Lumley and his board of directors have a clear idea of how an EnVision Center and Federal partners can help it build for the future, identifying in its application to HUD six priorities on which it will focus - addressing affordable housing shortage and homelessness that are especially burdensome for Native Americans in the Portland area; building on its educational programs by expanding job training opportunities for young people; addressing food insecurity by insuring the long-term viability of NAYA's commercial kitchen; maintain its robust youth sports program which keeps kids off the streets, out of gangs and contributes to their academic success; and promoting Native business development and supporting businesses in the city's Cully neighborhood; and maintain and upgrade NAYA's physical plant.
"For many years my team and I have worked closely with NAYA," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said during the press conference, "to provide stable, affordable housing, increased permanent supportive housing options and reach historically underserved communities with culturally specific care and services. Deeply committed to the community," he added, "we're both proud to be their partner and fortunate that they called Portland their home."