For almost as long as she can remember, helping people, making connections have been a central part of Nancy Jason’s life.
In middle school, and then in high school and beyond, she made time to volunteer with homelessness service organizations, feeding people in need and getting to know them. Even as a graduate student in England, Jason volunteered helping adults transition out of homelessness.
All the while, she drew on her own background as the youngest of three children in an immigrant family enduring the same ups and downs that sent others to the streets. For years, the family filled a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. Later, they left for California, moves that sent Jason to different schools for sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
“It’s always been there, my heart and my passion to connect. It’s always been about making a connection and hearing someone’s story,” she said. “Some people have this fear of the unknown. That’s sometimes why there’s such a stigma or negative perception of people who are homeless. But that kind of fear has never been a part of me.”
Today, after years of working directly with families experiencing homelessness, Jason supervises a team of advocates and others at Human Solutions, a service provider dedicated to serving families in Multnomah County who face housing instability and homelessness.
And, at the same time, she’s advising her agency’s senior leadership on best practices, helping to instill a culture of trauma-informed care at the agency and to grow the agency’s equity committee to better reflect the role that institutional racism and bias plays in poverty.
That commitment has earned Jason this year’s HILLTOP Award for Agency Staff/Volunteer Achievement.
The programs Jason oversees go to the heart of Human Solutions and Multnomah County’s shared mission of serving as a safety net for people in need.
She manages the Multnomah Stabilization Initiative, which offers flexible help to families in poverty, a rent assistance program that specifically helps parents seeking employment aid, and a housing assistance program, in partnership with the County, that works with families at Alder Elementary School.
“She brings a high level of compassion, commitment, and organization” to those programs, her nomination letter says. “Her staff respect and adore her. She expects a lot from them and she gives just as much back. She is dependable, smart, and engaged at the program level, with staff, and in her community.”
Threaded through all of that work is a commitment to pushing against institutional barriers — like racism and the trauma and lack of generational wealth it leaves.
“My own family lived close to poverty as an immigrant family in New York, but we also also had a lot privileges because we were Asian,” Jason said. “You can give someone a house, food and clothing. But it’s not just about those resources. It’s also about shifting a whole society and making a shift in people.”
That’s also why, she says, she strives to build trust with clients and let their experiences serve as a guide.
“It’s asking not, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ but ‘what’s happened to you?’ It helps get things in perspective,” she said. Otherwise, “you can really get lost in this field.”