Meet the People Making a Difference on Portland’s Homeless Crisis

If you think you need to launch a nonprofit or quit your day job to help address the homeless crisis, you don’t, thanks in large part to the people who already have. Below we’ve featured people and organizations who are moving the needle on homelessness in our community, and letting you know how to chip in.

Bringing neighbors together face-to-face.
When Multnomah County announced plans to open a new homeless shelter in East Portland this summer, many neighbors complained and tried to stop it. Caleb Coder focused instead on making the shelter a success.

With support from Mercy Corps NW and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Caleb organized an Eat & Greet event where Mill Park residents could share a meal with their new neighbors at the Wy’east shelter. Dozens of people showed up to the event, and since opening in June, the shelter has received very few complaints.

How to chip in: Caleb wrote an op-ed in The Oregonian about the philosophy and approach behind Eat & Greet, and he says he’s game to help other people do similar things in their neighborhoods. Reach out to Caleb on Twitter if you want to connect, and tell him Bridgeliner sent you.

Helping people help themselves — and their neighbors.
The Downtown Clean & Safe program hires homeless people to help clean up the city’s streets, and in October alone, it removed 3,100 graffiti tags, collected 5,800 bags of trash, and picked up nearly 8,000 needles and other drug paraphernalia.

Clean & Safe currently serves only downtown and Old Town, but at least one housing advocate thinks expanding it across the city would be the best way to reduce people’s resistance to new homeless shelters. “I don’t think it’s rocket science,” Israel Bayer told Willamette Week. “You dedicate a million dollars to a project like Clean & Safe, and you build it to scale. It’s a perfect win-win situation.”

How to chip in: It’ll take action by City Hall to scale up Clean & Safe, but in the meantime you can help Patt Opdyke and Terrance Moses expand their work at Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a nonprofit group that relies on volunteers to clean up trash around homeless encampments.

Spreading the word.
Portland’s neighborhood associations aren’t exactly known for their proactive responses to homelessness, but Mischa Webley is one of the people trying to change that. Mischa writes for the Northeast Coalition of Neighbors’ quarterly newspaper, and his recent cover story is a great primer on the complexity of the homelessness crisis — and the breadth of our city’s response to it.

How to chip in: Volunteer to start writing for your neighborhood association’s newsletter, or just help educate the people closest to you. Share solutions-focused articles on Facebook. Strike up a conversation with a friend or colleague. Or, you know, send people a link to this Bridgeliner story.

And here’s how many of our students in the area are helping out.

Providing free health care.
Students from three Oregon universities teamed up last year to open Bridges Collaborative Care Clinic, a nonprofit that provides free health screenings, dental care, and other services to people experiencing homelessness.

How to chip in: The clinic’s next volunteer training session will happen in late January or early February. It accepts donations year round.

Supporting women with their periods.
As a 16-year-old Catlin Gabel student, Nadya Okamoto started distributing menstrual hygiene products (aka “Period Packs”) to local women in need.

Since then, Okamoto’s nonprofit, Period, has given out more than 400,000 hygiene kits to women around the world, and Okamoto has spoken at TEDxPortland, written a book, enrolled at Harvard, and run for office — all before her 21st birthday.

How to chip in: Period’s website lists opportunities to start your own chapter, organize a product drive, or make a donation.

Cooking meals for homeless youth.
Culinary arts students at Lincoln High School have served more than 27,000 meals to homeless youth through their CardsCook program, which was featured on NBC News in May.

How to chip in: Everyone can use donations, so we’ll stop even mentioning that. You can also help CardsCooks by becoming a business partner or volunteering as a board member.

Breaking cycles of poverty.
Lincoln grad Alisha Zhao was named one of L’Oréal’s “Women of Worth” (ugh, what a title) for her work with the Kids First Project, a nonprofit she founded to help bring educational and recreational programs to homeless youth living in shelters.

How to chip in: Apply to become a volunteer or encourage someone in another city to start their own chapter.