Advocates for the homeless: Mission group occupied with doing the Jesus thing

NOTE: We’re suckers for organizations which lead with compassion.

Guest Column, published in The Oregonian, by William Russell, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission in Northwest Portland.

A group of new neighbors sprang up overnight. No, they weren’t at Lownsdale or Chapman squares. They weren’t part of the Occupy Portland movement that has been dominating the headlines, though they were also pitching tents and had a message they wanted all to hear.

Our new neighbors one October morning were homeless folks pitching tents in neat rows, creating a little community under the gates of Chinatown in our Old Town neighborhood. They are part of the Right2Dream Too (R2D2) nonprofit organization advocating for the needs of the homeless. Our new neighbors might be moving on soon, since they are not compliant with city of Portland code.

We are Union Gospel Mission. You will notice “Gospel” is our middle name. We do the Jesus thing in Portland. We follow this command, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. …” (Matthew 25:35-36 New International Version)

If someone comes to our door needing food, clothes, something to drink, a kind word or a prayer, we just help them. We don’t have a screening for their beliefs, their politics, their ethnic background, none of that. It’s all pretty simple. We’ve been doing this in Portland since 1927 — nearly 85 years — through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, during the fat years and through the lean years.

While our eyes are on the eternal, we are not blind to what’s happening now. We’re not blind to what’s coming. Meal demand at our mission has skyrocketed in the past three years — especially food boxes for people who thought they would never have to come to the mission for help. We know there will be more homeless. There is a three-year waiting list for Section 8 housing. Government assistance will be cut deeply. We’ve kicked the can down the road and the road has ended.

How will we “Occupy” the future? There will be more need than ever in our community. We are so blessed in Portland with a great city with many wonderful faith-based and secular organizations. We’re sounding the alarm and doing the Jesus thing and praying and helping. We invite the rest of Portland to do the same.

NOTE: Right2Dream Too is not a nonprofit organization.