A new beginning

Thank you for finding your way here. I write this with 8 days left on our time in the basement of Sunnyside Community House. It is heartbreaking to know that this place will no longer be open to all of our neighbors, but I hope one day it will be again. I thought about this alot last week as our time started feeling very short.

I thought about it Tuesday when one of my friends OD’d. S. was sleeping on the fenceline on Yamhill and 35th, a piece of real estate that is often swept and often a point of concern as it borders a park attached to an elementary school. The optics are not great. It is easy to see why those who don’t know S or his friends would be afraid. But it is also easy to see why they need not be when you talk to him. But what draws my heart to S today is thinking about the fact that he was sleeping there because it is the place where his wife of 36 years died. She passed away on July 24th. Most assume from an overdose, but the facts are still out on that. Anyhow, S has slept there most nights since then. He has lost his stuff in sweeps three times since. Last week he lost his stuff for the last time and overdosed the same night. Another friend found him not breathing and saved his life. The next morning my wife found him crying on a corner having just lost all his stuff again. He was despondent, foggy, grief-stricken. She looked for me—I was in a meeting across town. She tried to let herself into Sunnyside but the doors were locked. She knocked on a neighbors door in search of a glass of water. With that found she ended up just sitting with him then walking to Stumptown for a hot breakfast. Then she walked him down to the clinic where he was seeing his counselor. She was worried about him because he is in his 60s and was sitting on the corner in tears. She was worried because she knew he had lost his wife a few weeks before. She tried to help and did. But it was harder than it had to be. Scott didn’t have somebody unlocking the door across the street from him that morning. He didn’t have a place to stash his backpack while he walked to his appointments. he didn’t have an advocate helping him to talk to the sheriff in charge of sweeping the park that day.

I thought about it again on Thursday when Pat called out to our friend, D, “I’m glad we were here.” on his way out the door. It really struck me hard that in a week, we won’t be able to say that. You see, D his an old friend, middle aged, and living in a car with his beloved dog. He came in a half hour before exclaiming, “I’ve had a real bad accident.” He looked at the floor. Both Pat and I said, “go ahead. Take a shower.” It was 10 am. We weren’t supposed to let people in until 1. How do you tell a man that’s just pooped his pants that he can’t take a shower because you can’t let him in yet. D told us after his shower that he didn’t want to be a bother; he’d tried to go at the park, but they closed for the season already, after that he was running red lights to get to us because he didn’t know where else to go. He didn’t make it in time but we had a shower and a change of clothes to offer. Easy. Humane. Right.

Neither D nor S will have this sanctuary in the coming days because we at Sunnyside have to leave. We are no longer welcome to serve D or S and his former wife and their friends and family and all the rest of the stories after 8 days from now. Not because they all will be taken care of. Not because we don’t want to help. Not because we have a new and better place to be together. But because we are no longer welcome to serve from the basement that has been our home for so many years. It is so so sad.

But there is a new beginning. We are hopeful that a new home will become manifest. We have found a building we could buy if we could raise the right money, but it’s more money than I’ve ever seen at 1.5 million. We have found few open doors for serving our meal or offerings what we do for people in other people’s spaces but perhaps that space is out there still. We are confident that we will find our way to a new roof but in the meantime, we will not give up or give in. We will not give up or give in on the people that we have come to love.

We are starting Beacon PDX in that name. We are seeking wisdom from our friends on the street about how best to stay in touch and how best to tell folks where and what we are doing as time moves on. I am hard at work attempting to start a podcast to give a platform for all of these stories. We are deepening partnerships with churches, community spaces, Sunnyside Environmental School, and many more. We know that the work is not done and we are not done with the work. Please spread the word, support our work, say hello to your neighbors, join us.

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A day and a half in the neighborhood...