Mark Swann understands the realities of city living. "Being a great city entails a lot more than just having a vibrant arts community," he says. "It’s also about caring for your poorest. Half the state’s homeless population is in Portland, and we focus on the lives and experience of these people."
This past year Swann was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation’s Citizen Before Self Honors Award for his work as the director of Preble Street Resource Center – an organization that helps provide services and assistance to those experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty. When he started as director in 1991, the center had two employees and a one hundred thousand dollar budget. Preble Street now operates with a full-time staff of one hundred people, $7.5 million annually, and five thousand hands-on volunteers.
When recessionary cuts forced such programs as the YWCA and Lighthouse Shelter to close, Preble Street stepped in to save them. Swann and his team now oversee three soup kitchens, two emergency shelters, a food pantry, a medical clinic, a day shelter, employment services, housing location and homelessness prevention programs, veterans housing services, two apartment complexes, a teen center for runaway and homeless youth, and anti-poverty advocacy efforts. Through these various arms, Swann provides basic needs to those who need it, survival solutions to help people get jobs and housing, as well as education and advocacy to curb the problem in the long term. And in November, the center will be opening the Joe Kreisler Center – a shelter for runaway and homeless teens – to be located across from the current teen center on Cumberland Avenue.
"Our premise for all our centers is that it’s all about relationships and human beings," Swann says. "Talking to one another, and really opening our doors, welcoming people and saying the simple statement we say one hundred times a day, which is ‘How can I help you?’ "