Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Portland is primed for a turnaround from unusual places. Wednesday nights in Portland, Oregon, street outreach teams gather together from a church called Father’s House City Ministries. The outreach teams take a mobilized and stationary approach in the Old Town District with prayer, worship, and a multi-prong strategy to see things turn around, finding practical steps to help the business community and the homeless.
The people of Father’s House have served the homeless communities in downtown Portland for over 20 years, but have been more strategic in the Old Town District several weeks after COVID-19 closed doors to many of the 200 surrounding businesses.
The outreach teams on Wednesday nights call themselves “Can We Help?” as they walk around on foot with backpacks, giving essential items out to the homeless.
Chinatown, located in Northwest Portland, was once known as a haven for the Chinese and Japanese Communities in the 1870s. Slowly over time, Old Town was significantly influenced by poverty and developed into a homeless hub, high drug and crime area, with mental illness highly prominent. This part of town near the Willamette River has had the nickname of “Slab-town” but is now being referred to as “Stab-town.”
Before the state of Oregon orders were placed in motion mid-March, the Old Town neighborhood attracted tourists to the iconic features such as the Portland Oregon Sign, Voodoo Donuts, Chinese Garden, many restaurants and night clubs, and the legendary Saturday Market.
As COVID-19 laws shut down the flourishing businesses in the Old Town area, with residents still living in the neighborhood, homeless camps have migrated to where social services were still available. The number of tents in Old Town exponentially increased. However, it was not just the homeless that came to the area, but also pimps selling girls, and drug dealers peddling their merchandise, often intimidating and abusing the homeless as well.
The few owners who have kept their businesses open, return to find broken windows and their business ransacked. Additionally, “tents” have blocked the entrance to businesses with strong-arm intimidation when the owners ask for the tents to be moved.
These streets are mostly deserted and filled with trash, hardly the place anyone would want to go shop. Now both businesses and the homeless living on the streets are finding other difficulties- bands of marauders who come in the wake of the protest late at night to break windows and loot. This violence is traumatizing the vulnerable population of houseless folks, many of whom suffer with PTSD and mental illness. Old Town, needs a turnaround.
The Father’s House team show their presence as they “prayer walk” on Wednesdays with the intention of standing in the gap between business owners, the residents in the community, and the homeless camps to resurrect what has been lost in Old Town.
Neither the COVID-19 concern nor the riots in downtown Portland are holding back this unified team as they continue to boldly come together in agreement delivering hope and expectation to see neighborhood transformation through prayer and worship.
Recently, as the riots appeared in the major cities throughout the nation, the rioters who came from the center of downtown Portland attacked the homeless camps. The homeless guarding the area have been able to keep much of the violence out of that part of downtown but on Sunday night a homeless man had to be hospitalized because he was hit on the head by a rioter. They felt the need to protect the area.
Several members from Father’s House have built a relationship with City Council and the Portland Police to find a way to save the neighborhood of Old Town. The Father’s House group believe that city transformation starts with the hearts.
As they take a mobilized approach to the streets of Old Town, the teams minister to the homeless camps with prayer, providing supplies, cleaning up the streets, and declaring life and blessing over the businesses. Their next approach is partnering and serving the business owners to help in preparations of re-opening.
Four individuals from the Father’s House groups were interviewed and given the question, “Why do you come to one of the most dangerous areas in Portland to sing and worship?”
Response #1: “To release the presence of Jesus who is the Prince of Peace. The Bible says that God is enthroned on the praises of His people, so our praise is enthroning Jesus over areas that have been under seige.”
Response #2: “Jesus doesn’t ask us to go where we are comfortable. He asks us to go where we are needed.”
Response #3: “Now is the time for the church to be unified. We are given authority in heaven to shift the atmosphere and bring heaven to earth. Portland as it is in heaven.”
Response #4: “We seek to unite the homeless and the business owners in caring for the neighborhood and protecting it from further devastation of marauding bands of looters by showing each of them how valuable they are to God, how He cares for people, but also their dreams, aspirations, and investments.”
A blessing is declared over the city of Portland and the Old Town District:
The Father’s House outreach teams have created a movement as they bring the “church” outside the four walls to the Old Town District. Old Town is turning around!