PORTLAND - In Southeast Portland, barking rings out from the back of the doggie daycare called “Dogs Dig It."
"Stella! Come here. Want a treat?” calls a friendly voice.
It belongs to Melinda Tsow, who has a knack for keeping calm in the midst of 60 barking dogs. She's dealt with chaos most of her life, but not always with grace or skill.
“I'm 39 years old, its got to stop. I've got to grow up,” she said.
Melinda has been in and out of Washington State prisons four times on drug and theft charges. When she got out the last time, ten months ago, Melinda moved to Portland and found Central City Concern's employment access center, which helped land her the job.
“It's a godsend,” she said.
Central City also recruited Janel Hanson, the owner of Dogs Dig It.
“She's amazing," she said, nodding toward Melinda.
Hanson gave the felon a chance and watched her bond with the animals.
“On their side, it's instant love with the dogs. It's maybe something they haven’t had in their lives is love and they're getting that from the dogs," she said.
Central City Concern works to help the homeless get off the streets and away from their addictions.
Its programs are funded by a mix of tax dollars, private foundations and various corporations. The employment access center assigns each person a caseworker who will stay with them for three years, helping them find the job and then keep it as challenges arise.
The average annual cost for each client is $2,200 according to Kathy Pape, Communications Manager for Central City Concern.
In 2011, the agency helped 384 people find new jobs. It helped another 360 who found work the year before, hang onto them during the year.
In downtown Portland, Roy Carter is one of those new workers.
“Its nothing nice," he said as he sprayed a scraped a sidewalk and wall near a homeless shelter. He scrubs down parts of the city that the homeless use as a toilet.
“That's pretty much what I do right there," he said after a few minutes of scrubbing.
Roy spent ten years in prison for robbery and got out in August of 2011. He's another who would likely be homeless without the help of Central City's employment access center.
“They have an extensive program in there to get you computer savvy if you need to. Job search, resumes, cover letters, I even have an email account now," he said with a smile.
At Jeld Wen Field, Liz Mendoza celebrates a new life after blowing up her old one during an ugly marriage breakup.
“I was doing identity theft and you know, doing drugs and stuff to cover up the pain and all that and I went to prison for two years," she said.
She got out just two months ago and like the others, found help with Central City Concern.
“Within two weeks the employment access center had helped me with my resume, practicing for interviews, job leads and within two weeks, I was interviewing here at Jeld Wen Field and I walked out 15 minutes later with a job," she said, beaming.
Without the group’s help, Liz is certain she would be homeless and back on drugs.
“I feel like I would have gone back to the same thing I would have known. Because its familiar and I would feel safer that way. I would have never became that independent woman that can stand on my own feet."
Instead, she looks forward to a future full of possibility.
“Living a new life was able to buy everything for my new home, you know, and I didn’t have to steal or lie or anything for it. And it’s the greatest feeling," she said.