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Formerly homeless Portlanders volunteer with organization to help others get off the streets

The non-profit has helped more than 150 homeless people access resources and housing, in addition to working to keep the streets clean.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Piece by piece and needle by needle, a group of volunteers work to pick up what’s left over from homeless camps in Southwest Portland. 

"Get all the dirty needles and stuff off the streets," said Zoey Davis, a volunteer with We Heart Portland, a non-profit group that started in Seattle two years ago and has now expanded to clean Portland’s streets as well.

Davis was recently homeless, but is now in transitional housing thanks to the help she got from volunteers with the program.

"I stayed right over there," she said, pointed to the intersection of Southwest 15th Avenue and Burnside. "I had two houses over there. I had tents and other places around the community. It was cold in the winter and lots of dangerous activity."

RELATED: ‘We're done with Portland’: Some residents move away over what they say is the city's lack of response to homeless camps

Volunteer Patrick Burnite, who helped Davis get off the streets and into safe housing, said she wanted to come do the same for other homeless people, and she's helped the group to approach others.

"She comes out and does stuff like this and she’s trying to integrate herself back into society again," he said. "One day she said, 'OK, I’m ready to get out of here. I’m so done with this.'"

Davis is one of more than 150 people the non-profit has helped get off the streets since it started. The group has also cleaned up more than 700,000 pounds of trash and 20,000 needles.

RELATED: Portland starts to clear some camps along school routes after mayor's new ban

"Everybody can have a hand in helping support somebody languishing on the streets," said founder Andrea Suarez. The non-profit now has hundreds of registered volunteers. 

"I knew I could bend over and pick up trash and needles and put it into a trash bag. I knew I could take that action what I didn’t know is that I could also be a part of the solution to help our unhoused neighbors," she said. 

"It gives them hope, someone to talk too," added Burnite.

That's a hope that people like Davis now give right back to the streets she once lived on.

"So the people around the community can be nice and safe," she said.

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