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Portland musician works through homeless crisis, finds housing after almost 2 years on the street

Even with two jobs, a Portland woman says it was impossible to get stable housing on minimum wage

PORTLAND, Ore. — A musician moved to Portland during the pandemic and worked two minimum wage jobs; she lived two years on the streets before she could afford housing. KGW covered her story in September and since then she has found a new job and stable housing.

The stretch above Portland's Riverplace Marina is where Denise Martin often plays some of her favorite tunes on the harp. 

"I was on this bench off and on for a year and a half, this was my bread and butter," explained Martin. She moved to Portland from Las Vegas where she also worked as a street musician until COVID-19 shut the city down.

"But I went to work in one of the best steakhouses in Portland, minimum wage and I couldn't make it," said Martin, "I could not dig out of the hole on that, between gas, food and paying for my son, I couldn't make it." 

Even with two jobs, she struggled to afford a motel room with her son and sometimes slept in her car. Feeling stuck in the cycle of homelessness, Martin decided to make a change.

She got a job at Burgerville and was able to get tips. That move made all the difference. "Generous customers and their tips has allowed me, as a minimum wage worker, to get off the street," she said.

Martin is now off the street and renting a room in Southeast Portland. She said, she couldn't have done it alone. "The people on the street on the sidewalk living in their car, they are not lazy," said Martin. "They are stuck, and as a village, we have to reach in and help just like people helped me."

You can still catch her sharing beautiful music on the water front but nowadays, she doesn't have a sign saying she's homeless. 

"Thank God I have an indoor job today and I'm just here for fun," said Martin. "As a homeless person I felt broken, I felt stupid, I felt less than, my self esteem was in the dirt."

A broken melody with new found harmony and a message of hope for others like her. "Getting into a home feeling stable feeling like a real person, not having to apologize for my life. I can't tell you how different it feels, and that's important. We have to help people feel different in order to create a different life."

Martin hopes to launch an online fundraiser next month called "Harpeoke" think karaoke with a harp. It will help people find a way out of homelessness.

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