Alumnus Does Good for Veterans
by Sara Curnow Wilson
What do you do when you have a functioning homeless shelter but no washer and dryer?
“Laundry,” laughs geography and urban studies alumnus Chris Aiosa ’09. “At the end of every day, my wife and I did laundry. Sometimes it was at our house, sometimes at the laundromat, but we did it every night for two full months until we got approval to install the machines.”
The anecdote is evidence of his wife’s patience and support, but it is also a testament to Aiosa and the work he is doing to help homeless veterans. He recently helped create Do Good Multnomah, the first veterans-only shelter in Portland, Oregon and the city’s only veteran-centered non-profit.
Do Good was founded in May 2015, and the first shelter opened that Veterans Day in the chapel of the First Congregational UCC Church in Downtown Portland. In the first month, the shelter was able to serve 43 homeless veterans.
A veteran himself, Aiosa served in the Air Force before attending Temple. He shies away from stressing that fact out of respect for veterans who, unlike himself, saw combat, but he says it helps him connect to the population he serves.
This is where I’m supposed to be.
Do Good fills a need in Portland not only because it serves veterans exclusively, but also because it is a “low-barrier” facility that — unlike other shelters — accepts veterans who have not been honorably discharged or did not serve the two years required to receive most government benefits. It also allows veterans to bring their companion animals into the shelter.
“There was no real ‘aha’ moment for me,” Aiosa says when asked about Do Good’s origins. “Serving homeless veterans for the past four to five years, I have seen enough of them fall through the cracks or be unable to connect to the services they were eligible for that I decided to try and do something about it.”
Aiosa has also worked at other Portland agencies that serve the homeless population, including Portland Rescue Mission, Transition Projects and Central City Concern.
His work with Transition Projects earned him the Skidmore Prize in 2012, an award given annually by the Willamette Week to young Portlanders working for local nonprofits. Calling it the “Social Work Oscars,” Aiosa says the award helped him realize his commitment to the work.
“This is where I’m supposed to be,” he says.
For now, Do Good is small, with enough room for 13 veterans and seven animals. But Aiosa has big plans. In addition to opening a larger, or second, shelter within the next year, he hopes to eventually create a large, veteran-centered community. This community would provide both low-income housing for homeless veterans and work programs to help them gain job skills.
*Washers and dryers will be included.