Well, Ryan and I just got back from our homeless excursion two days ago. We’ve spent these last two days cooped up in Eric’s apartment in Lashana recovering.
Eric got pretty busy and wasn’t able to fill you all in on what happened the last three days of our trip, so I’m gonna fill you in!
On New Year’s Eve we ended up going to a Catholic Church and watching the musical performances of a bunch of different talented people for a New Years Eve Concert. It was some good music and a good way to pass the time while we waited for 10pm to come along. We had left our stuff (backpacks, sleeping bags, and guitar) out in a side lobby of the church and when the service was over we discovered that our bags had been rummaged through, probably another bum looking for money. Nothing was stolen though so we were pretty happy about that. Then as we headed out we ran into a “domesticated raccoon.” It was about 10 feet away and just sat there staring at us in front of the church. We yelled at it and stuff, but it just sat and stared, so I videotaped it a little bit. Then we headed to our sleeping spot, ate some Raumen, and then went straight to bed. Ryan and I both woke up at the same time when it was still dark outside and I asked him what time it was…he pulled out his cell phone and looked and it was 6am, we had slept through New Years! It was the first time I had slept through New Years since I was a kid!
Well, the next two days we spent walking around Portland: Pearl District, Alphabet District, Chinatown, and over near the Loyd Center…we were all over the place. We looked for cans, played guitar, walked along the water front, and talked to a few bums. One particular bum who I remember a lot was a guy who called himself Robin Hood…I guess that’s a little perk in being homeless, you can name yourself anything! I was sitting outside of Fred Meyer while Ryan ran in really quickly and Robin Hood came up with his shopping cart full of stuff and asked me about my guitar.
Robin Hood: What kind of guitar you got man?
Me: Oh, it’s a Cort…I’m Steven by the way.
Robin Hood: I’m Robin Hood….is it electric?
Me: well, yeah….it’s both electric and acoustic.
Robin Hood: Cool! This here is my guitar (he pointed at a child’s toy guitar in his cart).
Robin Hood: Yeah…it gets the job done! Well, I’m off!
Me: Okay! God Bless man!
And that was the last I saw of Robin Hood as he pushed his cart off and away around Fred Meyer. This was the typical type of meeting we had with people throughout our trip. We’d meet a guy or a lady once, have some small talk, and then part ways. The one exception to this was a guy named Carl who we met our first day. We had a great time one night exchanging jokes with him. He knew some crazy jokes that didn’t make ANY sense, but Ryan and I would laugh anyways. Carl had just gotten out of Jail and was strongly addicted to Cigarettes. He would panhandle FOR cigarettes…and as soon as he got one he’d smoke it! In our 3 hour span of hanging out with him the first day he smoked 6 panhandled cigarettes! He was going to come find a place to sleep with us that first night, but on the way up he parted ways with us because he saw a group of teens smoking and he was going to go see if he could get a cigarette. We saw him two more times: once on New Years at Fred Meyer and he was completely smashed drunk and the second time on the Max: Ryan and I rode the Max quite frequently…it was free and warm…and went until 12 at night. People usually saw us or smelt us and would keep away. On one particular occasion a bunch of homeless guys got on while we were sitting there. No one was around us…and then when the homeless guys came on they saw us and piled around next to us. We packed the place up with stench and dirt…and it felt great…we all felt accepted. And one guy even shared with us that there was a hotdog feed “at Skidmore Fountain.” We never got his name…but we called him Skidmore.
By our last day Ryan and I had each saved up two dollars and five cents to use for a bus ride back to Sherwood where Eric would pick us up. The night before our old sleeping spot had been stolen by another homeless guy (who we suspected was a guy named Matt…who was a very lonely guy we had met the day before who offered us Marijuana to be his friends. We hung with him for a little bit, but we had to go meet Eric somewhere so we had to part ways with him)…so we had resorted to sleeping in the courtyard of a Catholic School…luckily school was out for Christmas Break, so we didn’t get woken up in the morning. It was probably the second worst sleep we got on the whole trip. The cement ground was freezing cold, we had no cardboard to insulate us….and it was just really hard to get comfortable. Also, we were right in the open, so anyone could just come up and beat the crap out of us, so that was a little scary. But by the morning we were definitely ready to be done being homeless…and we rode a bus to Sherwood…got picked up by Eric…and took amazing hot showers...probably the best thing in the world! And Ryan and I both shaved…our comment was: “we look like little school boys now!” It was pretty funny…I like being clean shaven!
Our armpits were stained with stink for a day…and my feet smelt terrible! After soaking in sweaty shoes for 5 days…they ought to be stinky! So it took more than just one day to rid them of the stink!
But we’re safely home (at Fox)…we had an intense and incredible journey through the homeless world of Portland, Oregon. We have changed a lot…and we both have changed our opinions about the homeless. In our experiences we found that the church isn’t involved enough in helping the poor…we actually saw one church that had a sign saying: “Keep out, official Church Business only!” I mean come on! Isn’t it the churches “business” to serve the community and the poor. The church building is JUST a building! That really got me mad and made me very disappointed. On the other hand…we noticed a lot of individuals helping out. On our first day we actually received Free sack lunches from a couple driving around China Town who were handing them out. And the lunches were GOOD: sandwich, fruit, water, cookies, chips…it was a huge blessing from God for our hungry tummies.
We have also changed personally; we have felt a strong tug to get involved. When we see those guys on the corners with signs asking for help, we’re not gonna ignore them…we’re gonna say, “Hi! I can’t give you money…but I’d be happy to take you to a burger joint and eat lunch with you! Hop in!” We discovered homeless people love a meal…but if you give them money…they are tempted to use it on beer or drugs rather then for their REAL physical needs. We met one guy who we named Brass (because he had been punched in the face by brass knuckles) and he had been given a 20 dollar bill. His words were, “The Lord has been good to me! I’m gonna go get a beer…you boys want one?” It was really sad…he was taking his money straight to the alcohol. Another thing I have felt really encouraged to do is to TAKE NOTICE and ACKNOWLEDGE homeless people. So often we avoid making eye contact or ignore them…but what we really need to do is look at them, smile at them, talk to them, and love them! With the Gospel message we can make Luke 6:20 and 21 a reality: “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours, God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. God blesses you who weep now, for in due time you will laugh.”
In all…I think this trip has truly given me a heart for the poor. They are each very special individuals who have feelings and emotions and who need the same tender care that we ALL require. This trip was amazing….and I hope our experience will fuel many other people into action with us. Thank you for all the prayers and all the encouragement! See you around!