This was written for the PNMC Evangel
The problems begin because Portland is a relatively warm city. It rests in the Willamette Valley, and though the winds from the Columbia River Gorge often blow through it, by the time they reach Portland proper, they have died down considerably. This draws a number of the homeless to live in Portland, and those who grew up in the city who become homeless have no real reason to leave. Thus, Portland has about two thousand homeless people, as an estimated average.
So when Portland has almost a month of snow and temperatures in the teens, it may seem like a small thing to those outside the city who deal with such weather all the time, but in Portland, this is a crisis. The city was ill prepared to deal with such weather. As was the homeless. While the far majority of homeless have semi-permanent resting spot at night, prepared with tarps and sleeping bags, no one was ready to deal with layers of snow and ice with a drop of temperature to 15 degrees.
However, at the end of the crisis period, it is reported by the Portland Tribune that only one homeless person died during this season. And the main ones who averted a potential disaster in Portland are the churches. One of the many churches assisting the needy was Anawim Christian Community.
Right at the beginning of the bad weather, “warming stations” were opening up in churches. One of the largest churches in the metro area, Portland Foursquare, opened up their doors during the coldest nights to more than 200 homeless folks a night. Anawim also opened up a warming shelter in Gresham, on the east side of Portland, before any other warming centers were open for non-families on that side of town. John, a homeless teen in Gresham, reported, “If it weren’t for the church opening, I would have died that night!”
When many churches were closing down services, Anawim remained open. On the Sunday before Christmas, Victory Chapel, a local congregation, traveled through the icy snow to Anawim to serve a Christmas meal of turkey, potatoes and gravy. They provided warm socks and eight hour hand warmers to the forty people who came.
There were near disasters as well. Jerry, one of the homeless in Anawim, was checked into Providence Hospital for a spine surgery. A few days after his surgery, he was sent to a recovery center in a building providing housing for those on the street. However, he wasn’t offered help when he asked for someone to close the windows with the snow coming onto his bed. In his post-operative delirium, he took a number of pain pills and walked out the door. He was found by the police two and a half miles away, trying to dig a shelter out of a snow bank with his walker. The police brought him to Emanuel Hospital, where he is being cared for.
Another member of Anawim, Paul, was trying to get to a warming center, when he had a seizure due to a sudden stop of his usual amount of alcohol, and fell headlong into a snow bank. His friend, Rich, was there and called 911. Paul spend some time in a rehabilitation center and now he is healthy and ready to get on with his life.
The homeless were protected through this crisis because God led his Spirit to stir up the people of Jesus to have compassion. It wasn’t easy for these believers to take extra time amidst the difficulty the weather presented everyone, but with God’s power and the compassion of Christ, lives were saved and a disaster was averted.