Once upon a time, I wrote on this here blog so frequently that mere mortals had a hard time keeping up. Strangely enough, all that writing never turned into the massive money-making machine one would assume. Sad though that is, it’s fine because I’ve found a new money-making venture that’s sure to lead to the fame and financial windfall which, I’m sure we all agree, would be mine in a sane universe: feeding homeless people!
OK, OK, so feeding homeless people doesn’t exactly sound like a great money-making venture but that’s because you just haven’t seen the way we’re feeding homeless people. It’s new! It’s revolutionary! It’s going to get me the money to buy that new car I’ve been needing for like 20 years and pay for plastic surgery to remove these two weird bumps on my nose. Just you wait and see.
So, all joking aside, I do need to tell you about this crazy, brilliant thing I helped build called LoveTalks, Baby! And it really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the brainchild of my sister Linda and her husband Adam. There’s an entire movie and several books worth of background story to how LoveTalks, Baby! came to be, but for our purposes, let’s start this spring when the lock-down began. For years Linda and her family have passed out food and spent time with people experiencing homelessness in the Old Town area of Portland. They had paused while Linda and her grandson recovered from COVID-19 in early March, but while driving to the hospital for her grandson, Linda and Adam witnessed an encounter between a homeless man they knew and police that left her very disturbed.
The thing about Linda is she can be a bit . . . extra. She follows her heart, does everything BIG and once she sets her mind to something all you can do is follow along and hope she doesn’t get hurt. She’s the sort of person who witnesses an accident and gets out and shuts down traffic on the expressway while she pulls the people out of a burning vehicle. After seeing this encounter between the police and one of her homeless friends, she worried that with the streets empty the homeless were even more vulnerable to abuse by those cops who are bad actors than usual. So she and Adam went home, made meals for 40 people and went out in the middle of the night to pass them out. She knew that people needed food, but as importantly she wanted the cops to see housed people around to signal that the homeless weren’t actually alone.
While on the street, Linda learned that the bathrooms and water fountains in the area had been turned off. The restaurants were closed and even fast food places were inaccessible except by car. Social services agencies were either shut down entirely or had limited operations. It was the end of winter and the elderly, disabled and sick were too weak to even get up and move. People were relying on each other to bring back what food and water they could find. Alarmingly, Linda saw that all of the windows in the area were boarded up. Other than an approaching hurricane, the only reason to board up all the windows in an area is when violence is expected. And really, if you leave impoverished orphans, widows, autistic, mentally ill and severely traumatized people to die on the street without access to food, water, bathrooms or human connection under the supervision of police whose interactions tend towards violence and humiliation, violent outbursts are inevitable. It had all appearances of a set-up. Vulnerable and potentially volatile people who are already widely despised would lash out and their behavior would be used to justify subjecting them to violence and forced confinement by the government.
So, Linda did what Linda does and intervened. She told me, “I may not be able to stop terrible things from happening, but no one’s going to say that when a holocaust was brewing on the streets of my city, the body of Christ failed to show up.” She contacted the mayor’s office and got categorized as an essential service so they could be on the street every night, serving. It started with making large quantities of food at home to pass out in take-out containers, along with water and whatever blankets, tents and other supplies they could get their hands on. Soon, they got a rig to cook food right on the street. The smell of cooking food attracted a crowd. And just like at home, people needed something to do while waiting for dinner to be finished. So Linda and Adam brought a rug for people to sit on, then some chairs, tables, music, art supplies and sometimes even a TV to watch movies together. They provided charging stations for people’s phones, tents and other supplies for those who needed them, vitamins and supplements for the elderly and sick and most importantly, love and boundaries and acceptance, regardless of difficult behavior, questionable appearance and whatever baggage people had. A Street Family started to form.
Linda and Adam are not rich people – she’s on SSI and he’s been out of work since being laid off from eBay 2 years ago. They put every penny that came to them into food and supplies for their evening gatherings and when that wasn’t enough, took out a $20K loan to get through several months of lock-down. The homeless themselves gathered donations from each other. While the world was shut down, the homeless were having parties on the streets of Portland. When they were forced to move from a sheltered location near a parking garage, party tents and lights were brought in along with more seating and decorations. Their gatherings took on the appearance of a fancy party happening on the street, except all of the attendees were homeless people.
For the longest time, no one except the cops and their friends even knew they were there because they came late and cleaned up before leaving. The cops kept their distance and didn’t interfere. Occasionally one of them would privately thank Linda and Adam for sparing them from spending their nights dealing with the problems that homeless people in mental and physical crisis tend to create on the street. Not only did a violent showdown between cops and the homeless never happen, crime rates in the area remained consistent with historical levels rather than going up as one would expect given the conditions.
When the protests started in late May, Linda and Adam rented cotton candy and snow cone machines and provided a safe haven for their people in the midst of chaos. When the noise and chaos threatened to overwhelm, they played soothing music and sat with everyone to help them remain calm and in control of themselves. Sometimes passing protesters stopped to share food, often leaving donations and thanking them for what they were doing. A couple of local police told Linda and Adam privately that without them the protests would almost certainly have been even more explosive and violent than they were.
So now it’s July and the nightly gatherings are still happening. The loan money is gone so we’re operating hand to mouth and donation to donation each day with the help of a few generous individuals. We’re hard at work creating partnerships with local businesses and charitable organizations to meet the need. We’ve formed an official registered charity (501c3 status pending) with a fancypants board and everything, built a website and are about to start selling merchandise to raise funds. We’ve met with a city commissioner, been given official clearance to keep using the city sidewalks for the gatherings and are working with her team to start integrating what we’re doing into the city’s efforts to serve the homeless. We met with US Senator Ron Wyden and his state director who will be visiting the gathering in the near future. Next month, Linda and I will complete training curriculum for people who serve vulnerable populations on issues like trauma, autism, deescalation, safety and building trust which everyone we encounter has told us is desperately needed. That training will become workshops which will create the revenue stream needed to fund the street operations.
I started the story with what happened this past March, but really, Linda and I have been laying the groundwork for this for years as part of a larger vision. The lock-down forced us to launch rather suddenly and unexpectedly, but we were able to make such a heavy lift so quickly is because we’d already laid out the vision for a model that can be replicated in other places to bring fundamental change from the bottom up. Once we get this pilot in Portland self-sustaining and solid, the plan is to train people in other cities to do the same. And as important as it is to make sure homeless people are ok, by getting the community actively involved and invested in providing people with a safe, healthy place to just rest, relax, dance and sing and share a meal together, the divide between the community and the people in the community who are unhoused can begin to heal.
Beyond that, our real mission is to trigger a fundamental shift in the way that we treat each other generally. Homeless people – even the difficult, troubled ones – are fellow image-bearers and deserve to be treated as such. It’s why we feed them good food in an attractive setting and treat them like valuable human beings who deserve good things. Because when homeless people have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong, then we all have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong. Which is a shift that very obviously we desperately need in this country.
So I’m asking for donations, not for my new car or to remove those weird bumps on my nose, important though that may be, but to keep us up and running through the end of the summer. By then we should have rustled up enough community and government investment to keep us going until we’re self-sustaining. You guys have come through in the past to provide clothing for naked grannies in India, medical care for injured children in Pakistan and even to help me pay my family’s rent. So I know you’re the sort of people who will pitch in for a good cause when you can.
We need at least $5000 to fund operations for the next 6 weeks. It’s more than I’ve ever asked you folks for, but seeing as only the very best people read this here blog of mine, I believe we can do it. Pray about it and if you feel lead, chip in whatever you can – it all adds up. Pass this on to your family and friends. Share it on social media. Stand on a street corner with a sign and a can if you want. Whatever we need to do. I really do believe that working together, we have what it takes to change the world. After all, the world is on fire and if we don’t show up and do it, who will?
You can make a donation using the button below or at our website where you’ll also find more pictures and videos from our gatherings. If you’d like to do something more personal for our Street Family, go to our store and pick items to meet specific needs. While you’re there, be sure to leave your email address so you can receive notifications when LoveTalks, Baby! Merchandise becomes available and to receive a monthly newsletter sharing what we’re up to. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s happening on the street. Or, just click on the donation button below to make a cash donation today and know that we’ll put it all to good use. All donations are tax-deductible. And when we make our goal, I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Come on – let’s change the world. You know you wanna!