By Nastacia Voisin |
Sunday mornings senior Matthew Baer slides out of bed at 6:30 a.m. and bikes through the cold pre-dawn to an old building tucked away in St. Johns. He brings his coat, a book and a willingness to work.
His task? Laboring for an hour and a half to set up and then tear down a shower trailer. He does this so the four homeless single mothers staying with the Community of Hope program can get a chance to wash.
“I see it as meditative,” Baer said. “It gets me out of bed in the morning. And these women might not have showered since Friday night, and they’ve been working or looking hard for work. So why not give them a Sunday to shower?”
Baer is one of three UP students volunteering at Community of Hope, a collaborative effort of North Portland churches to provide shelter, services, training and community to homeless women and their children. The transitional housing program welcomed its first family last February, and has since aided several women through a four to six month stay.
According to Linda Jo Devlaeminck, the program’s director, the goal of Community of Hope is to offer one solution to homelessness within the context of Christian community.
“If we are trying to evangelize people by telling them to come to our church,” Devlaeminck said. “That’s not going to work. We need to go to where people are, and love them there.”
During their time in the program the women are assisted in finding and holding jobs, managing finances, learning parenting skills and overcoming trauma.
“When they come in, they come with a lot of gifts and strengths, but also they’re wounded,” Devlaeminck said. “They’re all in the same boat, and that gives them the opportunity to form a supportive community.”
The program currently has the capacity to support four families, and operates out of the Red Sea Church basement and a church-owned building named the HUB. The program will transition into a 24/7 shelter as permits to add showers and laundry facilities and upgrade the building are approved.
Once the HUB is renovated, the program will be able to support eight families at a time. While that may be a tiny fraction of North Portland’s homeless population, Devlaeminck said Community of Hope doesn’t have the capacity or funding to aid everyone. Instead, they designed an intensive, long-term impact program that welcomes specific women.
“People have a picture of what it’s like to be homeless – a drug addict who’s just out to get a buck,” Devlaeminck said. “That is not true for these women. They may have made some wrong turns, but they are warm friendly, generous, strong women that are doing their best to turn their lives around.”
Meanwhile, the Devlaeminck is working hard to establish Community of Hope as a community resource. There is fundraising to do, city and county officials to connect with, training, supervising, mediation and teaching to handle.
That’s where volunteers like Baer, sophomore Grace Mannen and senior Katherine Maus come in. They help the fledgling program by setting up the shower trailer, supervising at community dinners and helping with community outreach.
“We couldn’t do it without volunteers,” Devlaeminck said.
And as much of a blessing as the volunteers are to Community of Hope, Devlaeminck said she’s seen the students also impacted by their work with the program.
“Part of what happens when you come here is you meet some fantastic people,” Devlaeminck said, “and you expand your boundaries of acceptance past your prejudices. That is such a huge gift.”
Nastacia Voisin is Copy Editor of The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.