Beside a few clips of Portlandia, and my general knowledge of the North West, I knew little of what Portland would be like. After almost a full week of exploring the downtown and neighborhoods of Portland, I was feeling nostalgic of Madison, WI, where I spent my middle and high school years. Portland and its people has the North West feel to it: laid back, health conscious, everyone is unique but also secretly trying to fit in to society. Bearded men, pierced women, everyone just a little bit happier because of the green grass, budding flowers and gorgeous mountains that surround them. One of the biggest shocks about walking around Portland was the greenery. Chicago’s “nature” pales in comparison. You don’t live in Chicago for the nature, though.
They really like beer in Portland. They really, really like coffee in Portland. I’m not sure which they like more.
We were in Portland for The Justice Conference, which was fantastic. Hopefully I can collect my thoughts beyond that single word to write more on the conference, the speakers, and the long conversations in quaint, hip Portland coffee shops and pubs that happened afterward.
On our very first day of exploration, Sher and I walked down Burnside St, home to the Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, Union Gospel MIssion, and Saint Andre Bessette (local Catholic church). In order to remain slightly undercover, we meandered down the street in our ponytails and sweatshirts, and were shocked to feel the welcoming, loving response that we received. First, we stood in line at the first shelter, talking with folks who were helpful in mapping out the area, where to get which meal and when, cots that were available, and how the daily system worked. “You’ll never go hungry in this city, you could eat six times a day if you wanted” one man told us nonchalantly. Such a fine review from the people was a surprise, we might have expected the volunteers and workers to praise their programs, but when the homeless themselves sing the cities’ praises, this is an accomplishment indeed.
Continuing down the street we stopped by a women’s shelter briefly, which was a little more rundown, yet still had a sense of dignity in how it was run. It felt like a family gathering, no one was being treated special, everyone was equal, and had a place… we left as they were calling together a group meeting.
Saint Andre’s was our original destination because we had read that they had a foot clinic; obviously we were intrigued, and wanted to find out more about how they ran their clinic. It was much more of a clinic than ours, to be sure, two nurses worked on feet as patients were able to sit and soak their feet. The nurses were hard at work, and didn’t spend much time talking with us. Our guide, without our asking, gave us an entire tour of the church, anyone is welcome in the sanctuary everyday, even if they fall asleep in the pews. What a brilliant acceptance of the humanity in us all. Again, this place was filled with practicality and equality, it was a safe place for the people of Portland. As we ended our walk down Burnside, we both felt like Portland really knew how to take care of their neighbors. Isn’t that incredible?
Underneath the Burnside bridge on Thursday nights is a gathering called Night Strike. It was our last experience with the local community and the homeless community in the city. It was a whirlwind of hair cuts, foot washing, nail painting, clothes, food and coffee. Sitting at a picnic table with several Cuban guys, JJ and even Sher were convinced to dance with them, learning some quick moves as we clapped along.
Check out the video to see where we were last Thursday night:
From our experience, the people of Portland are beautiful – both those that live in homes and those that sleep on the streets. Hopefully we can learn from them, all of us, as they are living out the mission of Jesus by loving and caring for their neighbors with respect and comradeship.
PS One of these beautiful people of Portland was JJ, our hostess who let us take over her basement dwelling for a week. She showed us around Portland like a pro. I’ll try to take you to a Packer game someday, JJ.