From Christine Stone, Department of Human Services, Communications

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is building a new three-story, 96,000-square-foot building in Gresham. But it’s not just another government-looking edifice.

Trauma-Informed Design

The building, planned for 22200 S.E. Stark Street, will have a trauma-informed design. This means creating a physical environment that promotes a sense of safety and calm for our clients and our staff.

Department leadership saw the need to better serve people in East Multnomah County.

“We wanted to make it more convenient for our clients, so they didn’t have to travel so far to meet with us. Also, there was an ever-increasing need for our services in East Multnomah County. From the start we wanted to build in a trauma-informed design so our clients would have a positive experience in our building,” said Don Erickson, Chief Administrative Officer for the DHS.

Services Offered

The building will house the Child Welfare and Self-Sufficiency programs. Services will include:

  • Assessment of reports of abuse of children and youth.
  • Family case planning and services to ensure safety for children and youth.
  • Family visits’ Protective Capacity Assessment of parents.
  • Placement services including foster care.
  • Foster parent recruitment.
  • Independence and transition planning and services for youth.
  • Family reunification planning and services.
  • Guardianship and adoption services.
  • TANF cash assistance, SNAP food benefits; Medicaid Domestic Violence services; and many more social services.

Reducing Stress with Design

Rendering courtesy of TVA Architects. This rendering shows the bioswale that will bring nature and a place to relax to the new Department of Human Services Building in Gresham.

Trauma-informed design is especially important for DHS—many of the people the agency serves have experienced trauma in their lives. Staff also need to feel safe and calm in their jobs. Research has shown that environments can increase or reduce our stress levels.

“The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel uneasy, sad, or helpless. A pleasing environment can reverse that,” according to University of Minnesota research.

Trauma-informed design recognizes how the building makes someone feel when they walk in the front door. The design can affect that person’s sense of identity, worth, dignity and empowerment.

The department worked with TVA Architects of Portland to create the architectural plan that would bring in natural light, natural surfaces, and the inclusion of as much nature as possible. Acoustic absorbing materials will help reduce noise. The color palette will be mostly cool colors such as blue, greens and purples. All of these elements are meant to be calming and help in healing people from the trauma they have experienced.

The design leaves all client services on the first floor of the building and places staff on the second and third floors. The design is open and friendly and uses a variety of trauma-informed design principals, such as creating spaces that are welcoming and demonstrate a safe environment.

The design will accommodate the special needs of the clients we serve. For example, there can be tense and emotional meetings in some family visits or foster care situations. Lack of privacy can activate anger or shame when conversations are overheard by all in the room. That’s why there will be quiet areas that respect the privacy of people.

Smaller, but Important Details

Smaller details such as furniture will include a variety of types of chairs to accommodate people with different needs. Even the art on the walls will make a difference. Local art, especially landscapes, are planned to help reduce stress and to bring a feeling of connection and warmth.

There will be an open plaza outside the building with a bioswale watered from the roof’s rainwater runoff. A little bridge will cross the swale.

“We sincerely hope that this building will be welcoming and calming and show people the respect and concern we all deserve,” Erickson said.

Ground breaking is expected to be this spring, with completion in the summer of 2021.

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About DHS: DHS is Oregon’s principal agency for helping Oregonians achieve wellbeing and independence through opportunities that protect, empower, respect choice and preserve dignity, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.

DHS provides direct services to more than 1 million Oregonians each year. These services provide a key safety net for those in our society who are most vulnerable or who are at a difficult place in their life.

The DHS Mission: To help Oregonians in their own communities achieve wellbeing and independence through opportunities that protect, empower, respect choice, and preserve dignity.