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Bringing Light to the Dark Side of Portland Special

He is 45 years old and sleeps on the streets of Portland. Who can help him come in from the cold and bring light in a time of despair?
Portland - A group of young people gathered at a corner near the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, one of the most elegant places for visitors to stay when they travel to Portland. But these young people weren't coming out of the hotel but into the mean streets of Portland. Some were holding large bags while they shivered in the cold Monday morning.
"Those bags look very heavy," Digital Journal said to one of the young people, who looked startled at first with questions so early in the day from a stranger with little introduction. But curiosity and a warm hello brought the group over for an interview about their perception of Portland's homeless and poor from a group on a mission to help. Meghan and Stephanie were two of the principal members who spoke up during the interview, supported by others in the group.
After a few pleasantries, Meghan said, "We're taking these bags to the homeless. We are going out every day while we're here to do this."
"And where are you from?" she was asked.
"Walla Walla University" was the answer, as the others stepped forward to add information as well.
"Do you find there are many people who need this kind of help? Aren't there special missions or places for people to stay?"
"Yes, there are," one young man responded. "But not enough. Many times the shelters are so crowded, there isn't enough room for everyone. So some people stay outside. Besides even in the day, it can get cold. The people need blankets and food, so we take them items like that to people who are living out on the streets."
"Are they bums?" they were asked, and they laughed at the question, then said. "No, they're not. Lots of them, we found, had good jobs they lost. Many of them have emotional hurts and need help and understanding. They need rehabilitation. Some are talented people and just need a chance."
Meghan then went on to describe how a fellow they met did dances and tricks and all sorts of entertaining acts, even as he lived on the streets. He had had some part-time, occasional work, but nothing steady enough to get regular shelter and food.
"What group are you with at the University?" Digital Journal asked, "We're 7th Day Adventists, and there are a bunch of us this weekend holiday doing this," Stephanie explained.
These are bags young people take out on the street to distribute goods to the poor and homeless of P...
These are bags young people take out on the street to distribute goods to the poor and homeless of Portland, Oregon
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"Are you out here to save souls?" They laughed once again and Meghan replied, "Really, no. Just save lives. That's enough. We don't give out literature or anything like that. We give out food and blankets and things people need. They need to live, and they need understanding. We try to give that not preach."
"What motivates you?" brought big smiles in the group, as one member responded this way, "We believe in helping others; it's just the thing people should do. It helps us grow also as people. We want to make a difference where it counts. It makes us happy to be helping others."
"Want to talk with our leader?" Meghan asked. "Besides he's looking for us."
Pat McCoy is a Chaplain at Walla Walla University, who was just blocks away and looking for the group when he was called to join them on the corner. He said, when asked about what the group was doing and his perception of Portland's homeless, that poverty and homelessness are big problems in the city that are growing bigger every day.
"We see more homeless people than we did last year. Many of these people were folks who were employed, had good jobs and now have nowhere to go. I talked with a fellow just last week, 45 years old, a former stock broker, who lost his job and his house and now lives on the street. These people aren't bums; they're like you and me these days, just people who have no place to go. And what I notice is they are getting younger. There are lots of young adults on the streets. It's hard for them to get jobs these days, and so they drift from one town to another and from one street to another. We're doing what we can to help."
"Do you see the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing?" McCoy answered, "There certainly is. You can see it everywhere. There are more and more people forced to live in poverty and hunger while others have plenty. It's sad."
A homeless man lives on the streets  with a sign asking for help  next to a business man who looks l...
A homeless man lives on the streets, with a sign asking for help, next to a business man who looks like he has plenty, showing the gap between rich and poor that is growing in the United States.
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Portland, Oregon's unemployment rate is 1 to 2% higher than the rest of the country. Foreclosures are at an all-time high. Many people have lost their jobs and their homes. Social service agencies are stretched to capacity, and there are cutbacks in social welfare programs that ordinarily help the poor and the homeless. Human trafficking has become a big problem in the city. Market research has focused on Portland's problem, as it represents what has happened in other cities. The difference is Portland's reputation for being a city that cares in the midst of a recession that has brought significant downturns in the economy, to include cutbacks in public transportation and other community supports.
File photo: This fellow sits on the streets of Portland with all his possessions  one of many young ...
File photo: This fellow sits on the streets of Portland with all his possessions, one of many young people in the ranks of poor and homeless
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As Portland continues to struggle to get back on its feet in hard times, young people, like the ones from Walla Walla University, have done what citizens sometimes do when times are hard. They help out directly and personally, while they still believe in the value of doing good not just for others but for themselves as well. They are, as some television newscasters declare, making a difference right now.

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4 comments

#1Feb 16, 2010 KJ Mullins
A local grassroots group in Toronto also does this once a year. I have been lucky enough to be involved with them. Good article Carol.
#2Feb 16, 2010 Cynthia Trowbridge
With so many jobs lost and home foreclosures this is happening all over. Good for the groups that reach to help.
Once a month some of the men in my church go into Detroit and hand out bread and sweet rolls and cookies. We have a chef who is a member of the church and he makes a big pot of soup which is also passed out with the bread products to the homeless street people.
#3Feb 16, 2010 Hans Smedbol
"there, but for the Grace of God, go i"....very well written story carol! also excellent photos, which well illustrated the plight of so many....i really appreciated how you mentioned that most of these folks are just ordinary, like you, me, and our neighbours down the street...only they lost their jobs and homes and have no where to stay. one's heart goes out to these folks, as well as a prayer for them, and a hope that it may not happen to any of our friends or families, or even ourselves, due to the ministrations of careless fate....
every day, we are living on the edge of life....and only in our own minds are we living in the delusion that anything is "permanent"....our good luck could disappear in the next instant...our hearts might cease to beat at any moment for whatever reason the universe might have dreamed up....always we are living on the cusp between life and death, between wealth and poverty, between having a job and a home, and not having either....and it can be no one's fault that these things happen to one....just the universe dancing its way through the possibilities....
i was very impressed (brought to tears actually) by the loving spirit of these young people, these Seventh day Adventists, in actually practicing their faith in a real way, in extending the hands of friendship, a smile, some friendly words, and some actual physical aid like sandwiches, or blankets....this in my mind is a wonderful act...i want to commend that Walla Walla chaplain for his backing the project, and the young people for being inspired to carry it out. these folks are making a real difference in my view, and are a shining example to all of us..
on the other hand, the greedy pigs at the trough, (otherwise known as bankers) who are getting gigantic bonuses now after ruining the economy, and helping to FORCE many of the homeless on to the streets...these folks need to get some humility, and a lot less cash...and perhaps it would do them some good to join the kids on the street, handing out blankets and food to the folks they drove out on the streets, through their greed and selfish criminal (in my mind) behaviour....instead of being rewarded for their greed and bad faith with even MORE money, perhaps they should be forced to contribute this money to address the problems of homelessness and all those attendant issues..
not only that. i suggest that these greedy bankers, who have been gleefully leeching off our hard work, and who have been so incredibly richly rewarded for their parasitic behaviour, should instead be made to do selfless service...to work with some organization on the streets of the big cities (and small) in Canada, UK and the US and elsewhere too if possible....these pigs at the trough should be encouraged to provide some meaningful public service, walking up and down the streets with the bags of clothing, blankets, water and food...just so they can get a good idea of the results of their own anti-social behaviour....
it was not for nothing that the early christians, and the muslims (still) view bankers as practitioners of "usury", which used to be a "mortal sin" in the old Catholic days....Muslims as i understand it are still not allowed to charge interest and....perhaps these religions had a good idea, when discouraging folks from a banker's life...too much like the abominated leech, who attaches himself to your body, and drains you of blood.
now every mother wants her daughter to either become one or to marry one....
please excuse my way of expressing my opinions if they are thought to be a little extreme..
thank you again so much for this article Carol.
#4Feb 16, 2010 Stephanie Dearing
Another excellent story, Carol! You certainly have captured a side of life that most want to ignore (here in Guelph, we do not like to admit to such problems, although once the weather is warmer, it is hard to deny the truth). I hope you win the prize!

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