Three O’clock People feeds and tries to help Portland’s street people. I’m part of the group and usually our team is down on the streets once a month. We always set-up at the same place and time (three o’clock) so the people know exactly where and when we will be there.
Some of us will be down next Saturday, but because of a severe cold front that was due to hit Portland yesterday, I knew our friends from the street would need what little we had now and not next week. So I took the tarps, socks and gloves down to the team working on this Saturday little knowing that God had gone before us and was working.
Here is the story of this last Saturday as written by Matt Tamura, the Three O’clock People group leader.
“Where do you sleep?!?!” He asked me with more than a small dose of desperation in his voice. I started stammering so he asked my mom, “Where do YOU sleep?” He was new to the streets, his first week for sure, maybe his second night. He didn’t have familiar faces to eat with, no one was willing to answer his questions. Those who do find a good awning or bridge spot aren’t usually willing to disclose its location to strangers.
“These people, where do they all go to sleep at night?”
“Under a bridge?” I reply, more of a guess than an answer.
“I need to find someplace to go…I am gonna get wet tonight…it’s gonna be really cold.”
“Ummmm…warming centers?” I say.
“Where are those?”
Why is every answer a question? It’s because I know the new warming center is for people with families, with kids. And I don’t want to tell him that I don’t know, that I don’t have any solution.
Paul showed up at Three O’clock People (our weekly feeding) today not really knowing what was going on. He had a small green rolling suitcase. He seemed youngish, maybe 35ish, good looking with only three or four days of stubble on his chin. “Are you going to feed us? Where is the soup kitchen?” I laughed: “It’s right about where you are standing.” We set up our tables and serve on the sidewalk. It isn’t always the most comfortable or convenient place, but it feels good to be out in the elements, beside them for an afternoon.
I had some blankets, but what he needed was something that might keep him dry. You don’t want to get wet on a night like [it’s going to be] tonight. Well thank God for Rick, who was going to be bringing some donated items next week, but had the premonition that they might really be needed this week. As if he were Paul’s guardian angel, Rick brought tarps and gloves and socks down to hand out.
[Paul got a tarp.] “WE ARE GONNA STAY DRY TONIGHT BABY! YEAH!!” Paul jumped and cheered and pointed to the sky. “That’s my God up there. He’s looking out for me.” Paul left with a little less fear, and a little more hope. He said he heard they might open up the Foursquare Church up the street for the night, and he was headed there to check it out. I watched him leave our corner of 9th and Pine, heading up Sandy and over to Ash.
What would be in your little rolling suitcase, if you had to leave your house today? What things would you stuff in your pockets? What if, in addition to losing most of your stuff, you lost contact with your family and friends? What if you were in an unfamiliar city, or a different country? I think loneliness is what affects me the most sometimes.
Another guy named Matt hung out with us and talked for a little bit. He has flip flops attached to his backpack shoulder straps even though he may not use them for another six months. When he goes out for a bite, he has to take everything he owns with him. Wow.
There is something all of our lives have in common. Routine. We have to go here to get food, go to this place to sleep, and be close to these people because they have our back. It’s easy for me to get into a routine. But then someone shows up and says “I don’t know where I’m going to sleep and I’m scared, can you help me?” And my heart was broken. That wasn’t in the script.
A few hours later I was still thinking about Paul, and I wanted to make sure he had a place to stay. I drove around looking for him. I circled the Foursquare church twice, noticing some homeless people hanging around one of the doors. I didn’t see Paul there, but I was kind of glad. I’d been praying that he was inside.